Redwoods thriving as climate changes

by Matt Brown, The Press Democrat

There is finally some good news from environmental scientists studying climate change: as the earth gets warmer, ancient redwood trees are thriving.

redwood
Photo by Christopher Chung, The Press Democrat.

The huge trees that dot the California coast and the Sierra Nevada mountains soak up carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, keeping the potentially harmful greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

Despite the warming climate, redwood trees are growing faster than at anytime over the last century, according to a report issued today by the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative.

“That’s a wonderful, happy surprise for us,” said Emily Burns, director of science for Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.

California summers have warmed, but rainfall has remained steady. The hotter climate also burns off fog that normally shrouds the world’s tallest trees, providing more access to nourishing sunlight, according to the report.

“The fact that redwoods grow faster rather than slower as fog decreases, that surprised us,” said Bill Libby, a UC Berkeley forestry professor who was involved in the study.

Read more at: Report: Redwoods thriving as climate changes | The Press Democrat

Trains: Forest friend or foe?

In 1873 the forests of Sonoma and Marin Counties were lush and verdant. Giant redwoods grew to enormous heights and age in the Russian River Valley and filled the watersheds of Dutch Bill and Austin Creeks. Mount Tamalpais hosted stands of huge redwoods.

But 1873 was a fateful year. Austin Moore (who later owned the Kings River Lumber Company that decimated the Sierra sequoias) and mill owner Samuel P. Taylor joined forces with banker and former U.S. Senator and Governor of California, Milton Slocum Latham and potato farmer Warren Dutton to form the North Pacific Coast Railroad. By 1875 tracks had been laid to Tomales through what is now Samuel P. Taylor State Park. By 1877 the line extended to Duncans Mills and by 1889 to Cazadero. Forest destruction followed in its wake. Sawmills buzzed and ripped all along the rail line: at Bodega, Camp Meeker, Tyrone, Moscow and Cazadero. Korbel (then a sawmill) provided ties for the rail lines.

Then in 1906, the San Andreas Fault ruptured and left San Francisco in flames. Shortly after, the Cityʼs rebuilding campaign began importing massive amounts of redwood from the north coast. In the rush to meet the demand, there was little thought for environmental damage and the forests were severely over-cut changing the mix of species (more brush, fewer conifers) and setting up the conditions for several catastrophic fires. One burned from Guerneville to the sea!

Eventually and ironically the presence of rail transportation and the depletion of trees led the railroads to promote the tourist industry to make up for falling revenues. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad which absorbed the NPCRR publicized its “Triangle Trip” from San Francisco to Monte Rio, Monte Rio to Fulton, then Fulton back to San Francisco. The railroad owned the ferry boats needed to make the connections. Even Samuel P. Taylor opened a resort called Camp Taylor. The growth of the tourist industry has, in turn, provided an economic incentive to preserve forest lands.

Railroads soon lost their subsidies as the money was transferred to auto roads and oil production. We didn’t see what was coming: huge numbers of autos, air and water pollution, mega-parking lots, highway carnage, sprawl development, gridlock and, finally, global climate change.

With the groundbreaking for the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit on February 24 the old rail line from Larkfield to Cloverdale is back in business. This time the train may actually help the forests. The SMART commuter train will provide an alternative to lugging around those steel cages with wheels we all use for transport, thereby reducing greenhouses gases that contribute to global climate change. Trains are part of the solution to climate change, the single greatest threat to forests. But this can only help if we all resolve to use SMART rather than our polluting cars. So, save a tree, ride a train!

 

Bohemian Grove Timeline

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ruled today that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved the Bohemian Club’s 100-year logging plan for the Bohemian Grove.

Several years ago Forest Unlimited helped to organize, educate and advise the Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club. The BRRC and Forest Unlimited together with the Sierra Club reviewed and commented upon a Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) filed by the Bohemian Club with the California Department of Forestry (CDF). After three years of review and three major revisions to this open-ended logging plan, CDF still approved what we still felt was an illegal plan. Consequently BRRC and the Sierra Club sued the Bohemian Club and CDF.

The ruling in the case, Sierra Club and Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club v. CALFIRE, is a win for environmentalists who for years waged a David and Goliath-style battle in an effort to scale back logging at the Bohemian Club’s 2,700-acre Bohemian Grove near Monte Rio, 75 miles north of San Francisco.

The ruling is significant because it requires CALFIRE to consider reasonable alternatives that are less damaging to the environment, said Paul Carroll, the attorney who successfully argued the case.

Environmentalists had opposed the Bohemian Club’s Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) , which sought CALFIRE’s approval to log up to nearly two million board feet per year, including some old growth, at the Bohemian Grove. The Sierra Club’s lawsuit maintained that the Bohemian Club initially overstated the amount of timber that could be sustainably harvested, in violation of CEQA.

The Bohemian Grove, the Bohemian Club’s elite enclave on the Russian River, contains magnificent redwoods and Douglas fir, some more than 1,000 years old. Coastal old-growth redwoods remain on only 4 to 5 percent of their original range: a 450-mile band along the Pacific coast from Big Sur, California to southern Oregon.

The Bohemian Club’s NTMP drew hundreds of public comments, more than any other in the history of California’s 1972 Forest Practices Act. In this ruling, Judge Chouteau questioned how CALFIRE could consider clear cutting as potentially feasible, but reject the public’s request for less damaging alternatives.

This ruling affirms that public participation in the permitting process is essential to protecting the state’s remaining old growth, said John Hooper, a long time forest activist and former Bohemian Club member whose objections to the logging plan led to the lawsuit.

In 2001, while a member of the Bohemian Club, Hooper hiked the outlying acres of the Bohemian Grove. He came upon large old-growth redwoods and Douglas fir that had been tagged for harvest. He learned that the Bohemian Club, citing the need for fire prevention, had applied for a permit (NTMP) to harvest 1.13 to 1.8 million board feet per year. A 2001 internal report by the Bohemian Grove’s then-forester had concluded that the Grove could only sustain a maximum cut of 500,000 board feet in a year without damaging the forest.

The Bohemian Club had logged 11 million board feet been 1984 and 2005, including old growth trees. At least nine old-growth stands were still intact, but Hooper found that these hadn’t been disclosed in the Bohemian Club’s NTMP. State regulations require landowners to divulge “special and unique” resources on their property so that logging plans can be accurately evaluated. CALFIRE requires that NTMP timber harvest goals be sustainable.

Scientists from UCLA and UC-Davis disputed the Bohemian Club’s sustainability and fire safety claims. The California Department of Fish and Game also criticized the plan.

“From start to finish, this was clearly a logging project, not a project to reduce the fire hazard,” said Philip Rundel, Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA. “The harvest rates and cutting schedules were totally inconsistent with the plan’s claims of restoring natural forest conditions.”

As a result of the criticism, the Bohemians scaled back their NTMP. The Bohemian Club resubmitted its NTMP in 2009, but offered no “feasible alternatives” to the proposed logging, as CEQA requires. CALFIRE approved the plan anyway, just two days before stronger regulations protecting Russian River salmon and steelhead took effect.

Concerned about the challenge to the integrity of CEQA, the Sierra Club filed suit in January 2010. In today’s ruling, the Court ordered CALFIRE to rescind its permit to the Bohemian Club and start over.

“Today’s victory shows that no matter how influential a group may be, it is not exempt from the law,” said Rick Coates, executive director of Forest Unlimited in Cazadero and a veteran of many redwood battles.

Here are some of the courts findings:

“It is difficult to understand why CDF would include clearcutting as a potential feasible harvesting alternative but reject the suggestion by public commentators that CDF consider a reduced harvest alternative. CDF rejects the clearcutting alternative as infeasible, but provides no clear justification for rejecting some form of reduced harvest alternative.”

“Given the fact that the department was unable to come up with one feasible alternative to be analyzed, it is difficult to conclude that the environmental document sets forth alternatives necessary to permit a reasonable selection of alternatives that will allow meaningful evaluation.”

“The NTMP is inadequate to support CDF’ s decision to approve the project.”

For more information:

http://www.savebohemiangrove.org

http://www.redwood.sierraclub.org/sonoma/Forest.html

11/9/10 After waiting nearly a year for a court date of November 12,2010, the plaintifs in the suit against the Bohemian Club were informed four days before the trial date that the Judge Robert S. Boyd recused himself citing close relatives who belong to the Bohemian Club! Judge ReneAuguste Chouteau has been assigned to hear the case sometime in 2011.

1/28/09 The Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club and the Sierra Club filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court to set aside CalFire’s approval of the Bohemian Club’s logging plan. The Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club was organized, trained and advised by Forest Unlimited. A special thanks to the Sonoma Group of the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club for their support of this legal challenge. Click here to donate to the legal fund for this suit. To see the petition click here: Sierra Club & BRRC vs. CDF.

1/16/10 As of this date, the Sheephouse Creek NTMP has not been returned to Calfire for additional review. A recent engineering report submitted to Calfire demonstrates that the proposed unimproved haul road, cannot withstand heavy logging trucks without damage and likely siltation of Sheephouse Creek. If you would like to help review this plan contact us.

1/16/10 Calfire approved the Sunrise Mountain THP months ago but, as yet Gualala Redwoods Inc. has not logged likely because of the low price of timber. GRI also applied for and received a lot line adjustment that would facilitate homebuilding on the parcels after logging. We still have hope that GRI will consider selling the parcels to the Open Space District for inclusion in the recently acquired Jenner Headlands.

12/29/09 CalFire approved the Boheminan Club Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan in spite of the fact that the Club has too many acres to qualify for such a plan and that the Alternatives Analysis and the discussion of cumulative effects all violate the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. Read More at savebohemiangrove.org.

Making more, fixing less

by Rick Coates

Well, they are at it again. Caltrans contractors are busy cutting more mature redwoods along Highway 101 to make room for more automobile habitat. At a time when climate is warming dangerously, Caltrans, with the encouragement of our local government, is cutting redwoods which remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so we can increase the number of carbon dioxide producers on the freeway.

Why? What causes this insanity? Is it ignorance of science? Is it selfishness? Or is it that our representatives pay more attention to the auto lobby than they do to the health and safety of their constituents? Yes, they support the SMART train, then undercut the ridership by expanding 101. And now, for the same reason, Golden Gate Transit is considering suspending routes to Sonoma County.

Public Policy has serious consequences. Last year the automobile killed 33,963 men, women, and children in the US. This is far more than our losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trains accounted for only 971 fatalities and nearly half of those resulted from a conflict with, you guessed it, an automobile. And these numbers will pale into insignificance to the loss of life due to global climate change.

Climate change is the single largest log-term threat to forests,, not to mention, species survival and water resources.

So why do we take the problem so lightly? The Board of Supervisors should be leading the charge for alternative transportation. More rails, less asphalt. More bike trails, interconnected with neighboring counties, no new highways. More electric cars and charging stations, fewer SUV and Hummers. More safe, convenient and on-time public transit. More carbon fixing trees, fewer carbon spewing autos.

It’s the stupid system

by Rick Coates

Outrageous. Disheartening. But, unfortunately, no longer surprising. After fourteen years of involvement in government environmental review, my naiveté is dead. Still, it was not without concern that I received four calls in the last three months. Calls about corruption. From insiders.

The first call was from a young man who had hired on to a prestigious environmental consulting firm in San Francisco. His specialty was toxicology. He had just received his doctorate and still retained the fresh idealism of youth. He was assigned a task analyzing water issues related to a construction project to be built by a major oil company. His findings, which were to be included in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), turned up serious toxic pollution that might potentially delay or halt the project. His company had just asked him to alter his findings in order to protect their client, a company whose name virtually everyone on Earth would recognize. To his credit, he had resigned rather than falsely his data. Unfortunately, his firm had changed the results anyway and issued the report with his name on it. He was made to understand that if he complained, he would not get another job in the industry.

Least you think that this was unique, consider call number two from a scientific consultant who worked on a local conversion-of-timberland-to-grapes in Sonoma County. The consultant was pressured to conclude that there would be no significant damage to a particular watershed by the project. The evidence was clear. Flooding and erosion would increase, percolation to ground water would decrease. The wells of the neighbors would suffer. The salmon habitat in the creek was already degraded. Additional silt would destroy it. The scientist had resisted so another consultant was hired to do the job.

The third call was from a well respected scientist who told me a story of his graduate student days. He had worked on research for the National Forest Service while doing his doctoral work. His thesis advisor placed him in charge of an ongoing research project while he took several months off to work on another project for a private company. When the advisor returned, the results of the forestry research done by our hapless graduate student displeased him greatly. Apparently the results threatened the profits of the private company that the thesis advisor worked with. The graduate researcher was told to alter his findings or do without a doctoral degree. You will be happy to know that the doctoral candidate ultimately received his doctorate by appealing over the head of the advisor, but was prevented from publishing in the U.S. for many years. His advisor had positions on or connections with peer review boards of Journals in the field. Our hero is now much older and has over 50 peer-reviewed publications under his belt.

The fourth call came from an insider in a government agency charged with reviewing a local logging plan. He told me that his supervisor instructed him to get the plan approved that the review process was “taking too long and too many questions are being asked.” The project proponent had “too many friends in Washington and Sacramento that can hurt the agency.”

Before jumping to the conclusion that we just need to eliminate the unethical individuals in the system, consider the system itself. Private projects in California must undergo review in accord with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The responsibility for review is vested in State or local agencies. The California Departments of Forestry (CDF), Fish and Game, and Water Quality Control review logging and conversion plans. But these departments do not write up the actual plans. Project proponents pay a private Registered Professional Forester (RPF) or a forestry firm to write a logging plan. Because foresters and forestry firms compete with one another for this business, they are under financial pressure to cut corners and increase the cut any way they can. Those who don’t maximize profits for their clients soon loose out in the market place. Lax review and enforcement of the regulations by CDF encourages cheating.

The same arrangement is true of biology, geology and hydrology consulting firms working on EIRs or logging plans. Project proponents contract directly for the production of an EIR.

Section 21082.1 of CEQA requires that EIRs “be prepared directly by or under contract to” the government agencies doing the review. The agencies may then recoup the costs by charging the project proponents fees. But the Second District Court of Appeals in a stunning example of judicial activism ruled in the case Friends of La Vina v. County of Los Angeles that it was OK for project proponents to hire consultants directly so long as the agencies “review” their work and adopts it as their own.

Unfortunately, many of the agencies are so cozy with the industry which they regulate that they are disinterested in an objective review. CDF routinely accept the forester’s and consultant’s ridiculous assertions as “substantial evidence” without (and contrary to the requirements of CEQA) any data presented to back them. Without public involvement plans are virtually rubber stamped.

Until this dysfunctional relationship between the project proponents, their consultants and the agencies, changes we can expect that the foresters will continue to claim and CDF will continue to agree that disastrous logging plans will have “no significant environmental effects.”

Please write your California Senator and Assembly Member and ask that they sponsor legislation to change this insidious arrangement.