By the time of this reading, the Dogwood plan could be beyond the deadline for public comments. If, however, it has been postponed, please visit Friends of the Gualala River (www.gualalariver.org) where you can get details on commenting to the record. Our win in court didn’t necessarily save the Gualala River floodplain but the court told GRT they had to take into account the cumulative impact of Dogwood and other logging plans along the river. This and other issues will be addressed by legal staff.
Felta Creek Threatened By Aggressive Logging Plan
UPDATE: LOGGING HAS BEEN APPROVED by Cal Fire!
(A Donations button earmarked for Friends of Felta Creek is located at the end of this article)
June 19, 2017, Healdsburg, CA — As wild Coho salmon have disappeared in every tributary of the Russian River watershed over the past decades, Felta Creek remains the rare exception. Even in the low fish years of 2006 and 2008, endangered wild Coho salmon survived in the shady pools of this boulder strewn west county stream. This spring, UC researchers discovered multiple spawning beds, or “redds,” in the creek’s gravel bars. But the fate of this fragile habitat now lies in the hands of an absentee landowner with an aggressive logging agenda.
In late 2015, Humboldt County resident Ken Bareilles bought a 160-acre Timberland Production Zone property that includes a core section of Felta Creek’s headwaters. Bareilles, a logger and lawyer, filed a Timber Harvest Plan with CalFire (formerly the California Department of Forestry). Barring some act of intervention, the plan — THP 1-17-017 SON (Fox Meadows) — is on its way to approval.
The fact that Bareilles’ plan progressed this far this quickly has alarmed both professionals and community members. Of the 160-acre property, registered forester Randy Jacobszoon’s plan calls for logging on 146 acres. Of that, 130 acres are slated for Group Selection and Transition Harvest — essentially, aggressive multi-acre patch cuts. According to the California Geological Survey, “site slopes range from 10 to 80 percent gradients … geologic mapping identifies dormant and active deep-seated landslides as underlying the plan area.” How will heavy equipment, logging and hauling during the winter affect a slide-prone landscape?
“I have reviewed logging plans in Sonoma County for over 20 years, and this is one of the worst,” says Larry Hanson, president of Forest Unlimited. “First, there is the delicate and biologically important stream that runs through it. Second, there are critical safety issues related to school children and local residents who use this one-lane dirt road to get in and out of their homes. Finally, there are climate impacts.”
NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, recognizing the critical need to protect this watershed, recommended a more sustainable approach to limit erosion and preserve more of the forest canopy. In a public meeting on Thursday June 15, 2017, Anthony Lukacic, the CalFire official in charge of recommending the proposed timber harvest plan for approval, said one of NOAA/NMFS’s recommendations made it into the final plan. He considered but rejected others, deciding that CalFire’s Forest Practice Rules would suffice if adequately implemented.
According to Russian Riverkeeper, the stakes couldn’t be higher. “Losing one of the single best juvenile Coho Salmon habitats on Felta Creek that get baby Coho through the hot summer months would be a massive blow,” says Russian Riverkeeper president Don McEnhill.
Community members and county officials are alarmed by the scope of the proposed hauling operation. The landowner has an easement to use Felta Creek Road, a private one-lane gravel road that winds above Felta Creek. Four full-time families reside there amidst some grape cultivation. The use and maintenance of this rural road have been sufficient to balance light traffic and the health of the fishery. But Felta Creek Road has never been an industrial logging haul road.
Community members have been told to expect 13 logging trucks per day in 6 separate shifts. Two wooden bridges, privately installed and maintained, have not been inspected to see if they can withstand this kind of impact. There are sharp turns around big trees, few turnouts, two waterfall crossings, a mile-plus section of road susceptible to sedimentation of the creek. At the bottom is Westside Elementary School, with over 170 students, some who walk down Felta Creek Road to attend classes. Most students and families use Felta Road, a publicly maintained county road where school traffic is already congested.
No traffic impact or safety studies were completed as part of the timber harvest plan. At the June 15 public meeting, CalFire’s Lukacic asserted that the hauling operation was a civil matter. A certified engineer’s letter questioning the suitability of bridges, numerous concerns about sedimentation of the creek, fire and public safety issues and threats of litigation have all been filed during the public comment period, set to close on June 26.
What could all this mean for the last recognized habitat for wild coho salmon in the entire Russian River watershed? One local timber operator who reviewed the plan predicted: “this is going to be ugly.”
According to one official at the CalFire meeting, agencies were concerned about Ken Bareilles’ record of land abuse: a cleanup and abatement order with the Regional Water Board in 2002, as well as CalFire violations. A March 12, 2012 California Department of Fish and Wildlife press release reported what inspectors saw at a Ken Bareilles-owned Humboldt property:
“… soil stock piled next to or in the stream channels, removal of riparian vegetation and poorly installed stream crossings. DFG then filed a formal complaint against Bareilles and he was convicted.
During a storm in January 2012, the team then returned and witnessed sediment entering streams and flowing downstream toward Redwood Creek during the salmon and trout spawning and rearing season. As the rain continued, video was taken of an estimated 10 cubic yards of sediment becoming saturated and flowing like lava into one of four affected streams on site.”
Bareilles’ THP zoned property also happens to be for sale. This means a buyer or coalition of buyers could potentially prevent logging in this critical watershed.
“There has to be a better way,” says Felta Creek Road resident Dan Imhoff. “We have to protect all the healthy habitats that remain in this County.” Imhoff helped start the organization, Friends of Felta Creek, to mount a community response and conservation outcome to the proposed timber harvest plan.
FOLLOW-UP AND HOW YOU CAN HELP
Good news: The THP has been sent back by the director for major revisions. See the accompanying article on this. However, it may come back with changes that still don’t fix the larger impacts.
Tax exempt donations can be made to Forest Unlimited for the “Friends of Felta Creek.” This DONATE button designates funds specifically for Friends of Felta Creek:
Contact 707.303.6091 for more information.
 “Humboldt County Attorney Convicted of Multiple Land Use Violations,” from CDFW News, March 12, 2012, web edition
Redwood Logging – “Dogwood” Timber Harvest Plan
On Tuesday, September 13, Sonoma County Superior Court granted a Preliminary Injunction to petitioners Forest Unlimited and Friends of Gualala River to temporarily halt further logging of the controversial Gualala River floodplain within the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan area while litigation proceeds.
The court determined that “Petitioners have demonstrated a clear, imminent threat of irreparable injury. Without the injunction, the logging activities under the Project will permanently remove trees and alter the environment. Petitioners’ evidence also demonstrates that the logging activities may harm ecologically sensitive, protected wetlands, flora, and fauna.
The court also agreed that the other requirement for a preliminary injunction – a sufficient basis for finding a likelihood of success on the merits of the lawsuit – was met.
The text of the decision is provided below.
“Motion is Granted. Undertaking of $10,000 is required. Petitioners have demonstrated a clear, imminent threat of irreparable injury. Without the injunction, the logging activities under the Project will permanently remove trees and alter the environment. Petitioners’ evidence also demonstrates that the logging activities may harm ecologically sensitive, protected wetlands, flora, and fauna.”
The evidence provided also demonstrates some basis for finding a likelihood of success on the merits. Petitioners raise several arguments about the validity of the timber harvest plan (“THP”) which they claim were raised in the administrative proceedings. Petitioners’ evidence in their moving papers provide explanations about deficiencies in the THP while the portions of the THP to which both real party in its opposition and Petitioners in their reply cite further demonstrate possible defects which Petitioners raise and which were raised in the administrative proceedings. For example, real party’s opposition appear to shows that the THP relied on only a generic list of plants that might be affected, as the basis for its findings, instead of demonstrating evidence of what plants are actually on the Project Site. Some of these pages are headed “common plant species list.” This failure to determine what plants are actually on the site, and thus likely to be affected, is clearly a potential violation of CEQA.
Petitioners’ Ex.1 at 122-124, 130 demonstrates that a botanist expert on wetlands provided comments explaining how the Project may affect wetlands and the responses consisted solely of an assertion that two foresters walked the area and felt that no sensitive, protected wetlands were there but, as Petitioners argue, it is arguably not demonstrated that they were necessarily qualified to make such an assertion. The responses also state that real party is “confident” that it located all of the sensitive wetlands, an equivocal statement that arguably shows a lack of meaningful evidence.
Although Petitioners’ initial evidence may arguably be objectionable with respect to the merits of the action because not taken from the administrative record, this is not fatal to Petitioners’ motion and the court overrules any objection to the evidence on that basis. The court notes that at this time the record is not yet available and thus the parties should not be restricted to it while real party in its opposition, despite objecting to extra-record evidence, presents and relies on similar extra-record evidence itself. Moreover, the documents which are presented in the opposition and reply are ostensibly from the THP and thus clearly could be considered.
Finally, the balancing test and goal of preserving the status quo weigh in favor of the injunction due to the nature of the likely harms. Despite some weaknesses in Petitioners’ showing of a probability of success, the balancing test involves a mix of the two elements and the greater the showing on one element, the weaker it may be on the other. Butt v. State of Calif. (1992) 4 Cal.4th 668, 678. In contrast to the clear, and certainly irreparable nature of the harm which Petitioners raise, Real Party demonstrates no threat of irreparable injury that the injunction would cause, only a possible and temporary monetary injury to it. Real Party will merely suffer a delay in logging and if it ultimately prevails may still conduct the logging, obtaining the profits it would have obtained. Real Party claims that the injunction will threaten a sawmill which relies on the logs and that it will suffer $1.4 million in expenses, but this is not persuasive. Nothing shows that Real Party owns and operates the mill, the relationship between them being unclear at best. Even if Real Party owns the mill, the issue for threatened injury is not the lost profits, which again will be delayed only, but injuries that may result from going out of business due to a lag in production, which Real Party has not shown. Real Party also only asserts that it needs to proceed with the logging in order for the mill to operate at “full capacity” but this does not demonstrate that without this logging this mill could not operate adequately, at less than full capacity.
Because of the lack of evidence of injury resulting from the injunction, the court finds no support for the requested undertaking of $700,000. Due to Petitioners’ demonstrated lack of financial resources, and the unclear, tenuous nature of any material harm from the injunction, the court finds that an undertaking of $10,000 is appropriate.
For more information:
contacts: Forest Unlimited Rick Coates 707.632.6070 or Larry Hanson firstname.lastname@example.org Peter Baye, Friends of Gualala River email@example.com 415.310.5109 www.gualalariver.org