Know your watershed

by Rick Coates

I am amazed at the number of blank stares that I get in response to the question “What is your watershed?” If I had asked what neighborhood they lived in or what street they lived on, they would answer immediately. Yet a question about water, an absolute necessity for life, elicits perplexity.

In some cases it is the word “watershed” that they do not know. Your watershed is the entire upland area, from ridge top to ridge top, that collects, stores and releases rain water surrounding your home together with the creek or river that drains that area. Watersheds are usually named by the creek or river that drain them such as the Santa Rosa Creek Watershed, but they include all of the surface land that drains to that watercourse.

City folks often know not their watershed because it is underground. Rain flows from their roofs to the curb and down the culvert drain. Out of sight, out of mind. No visible creek and the related watershed disappears. Or their waterway no longer bears the name of a creek. Instead it is called a “flood control channel” and is straight as a city street. Most likely, though, most folks have never thought of how important the watershed is to them and how they effect it. Until a flood washes through their living room. You can bet that the citizens of Guerneville know their watershed. Or until gasoline bubbles up in the bathroom tub as happened in the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa. Or until their well runs dry. Or until the salmon disappear.

Take some time to get out a map, locate your home and note the creek or river closest. Thomas guides or Google Maps show greater detail but topographic maps better define the drainage area. Actually you live in several watersheds. The “highest” order watershed is the headwaters or tributary of the nearest creek. Each time the creek flows into another larger creek it drains an even larger watershed. The final and largest “first order” watershed drains to the sea.

For example, consider Santa Rosa Creek Watershed, a fifth order watershed. Santa Rosa Creek, which starts in the Mayacmas Range east of Santa Rosa, flows south to the juncture of the Valley of the Moon and Rincon Valley. Along with the water flows pesticide and herbicide residues washed off the nearby vineyards. Along the way Brush Creek joins Santa Rosa Creek. Therefore those who live in the Brush Creek watershed also live in the Santa Rosa Creek Watershed. At E street in downtown Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Creek dives underground flowing beneath the Santa Rosa City Hall hidden from life-giving sunshine. When it emerges just west of Highway 101 near Days Inn it has become the “Santa Rosa Flood Control Channel”, straight and true. By this time the drainage from city streets and parking lots has joined the flow. It caries nice additives like garden pesticides, gasoline, oil, and detergents. Soon thereafter, near Llano Road, it joins the effluent from the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant falling into the Laguna de Santa Rosa Flood Control Channel, a fourth order waterway which meanders sluggishly and darkly through the Laguna de Santa Rosa Watershed. It is here that animal waste tea joins the soup. The Laguna is a third order Watershed. The water and its pollutants then join the waters of Mark West Creek, a second order watershed. Mark West Creek together with its load of treated sewage effluent joins the Russian River Watershed just downstream of the Sonoma County Water Agency’s drinking water intake. The Russian River is a first order, if not a first class, watershed. It is fed by many smaller watershed some contributing agricultural fertilizers and pesticides and some contributing silt from logging operations.

Its pretty obvious that what happens upstream of the drinking water for most of Sonoma County is important. Its important for the fish too. Pesticides from home and farm wash into the stream. Many pesticides aside from being toxic themselves contain a wetting agent known as nonyl phenol. Many detergents also contain nonyl phenol. Nonyl phenol, an estrogen mimic, has been shown to effect the salmonid reproductive cycle. Salmonids must readjust to salt water when they return to the ocean. Unfortunately, small concentrations of nonyl phenol can damage their ability to properly adjust to sea water. The result: these salmon fail to thrive and seldom return to spawn. Excess silt running off denuded hillsides can actually confuse migrating salmon and steelhead causing them to end up in a creek for which they are genetically unsuited.

Forests, both upland forests and riparian forests, play an important role in cleaning the creaks and rivers of silt and pollutants. What is upstream in your watershed matters. Forests hold water and release it slowly throughout the year, reducing flooding. Trees, especially redwoods, filter prodigious quantities of water trapping pollutants in their trunks. The transpired water gets recycled to the forest by fog precipitation. Consequently, it is important to monitor the forest condition within your watershed.

What’s downstream matters too. Pollutants carried by tributaries into the main stem below your watershed can kill fish before they ever reach your stretch of the creek. More and more salmonids must “run the gauntlet” before reaching spawning habitat. After spawning, salmon die and their decaying bodies provide necessary nutrients and food for other creatures. Wildlife require riparian corridors up and down the length of the watershed (including within cities!). It is particularly important that wildlife have access to clean drinking water. Zoning should provide development setbacks from the creek to protect wildlife habitat and provide sufficient riparian forest and wetland to cleanse the runoff waters.

A healthy watershed provides a year round source of water for forests. Forests provide an even, year-round flow of water to the creeks and rivers. Watersheds are crucial to the health of forests. Forests are crucial to the health of the Watersheds.

Does your watershed have an active group of citizens that monitors and protects it? If not, Forest Unlimited would like to help you organize one. If you do, Forest Unlimited would like to provide your group with a forest protection training. Forest Protection Workshops, custom scheduled for your group’s convenience, provide an understanding of the political and legal tools your group can used to prevent abusive logging or riparian damage in your watershed. For more information contact us at 707-632-6070 or visit forestunlimited.org.

Friends of Sheephouse Creek

April 10, 2009

In the small Sheephouse Creek watershed west of Duncans Mills, multiple timber harvest plans have been proposed to log 20 percent of its area. The creek’s headwaters are part of the Jenner Headlands a new acquisition of the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District. It is also the site of an ongoing taxpayer-funded captive broodstock program for coho salmon initiated in 2001.

Designated by the California Coastal Commission as a special treatment area, partially because it still support of silver (coho) salmon and steelhead trout, this watercourse has been proposed for multiple restoration projects. The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined Sheephouse Creek to be a core restoration area for coho recovery. Its waters are important in the development of the summertime fresh lagoon proposed for the lower Russian River to create a healthier nursery for young steelhead and salmon.

In January of 2008 Forester Glen Edwards filed Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan 1-08NTMP-004 SON in the Sheephouse Creek watershed on behalf of the Rocioli Ranch. Because of the multiple threats to the recovery salmon,some local residents the Friends of Sheephouse Creek and sought Forest Unlimited’s help understanding the California Department of Forestry’s review process for NTMPs.

This NTMP, about 2-1/2 miles west of Duncans Mills and bordering Sheephouse Creek, involves 228 acres of “Selection” silviculture. Forty-three acres of the area are Coastal Commission Special Treatment Zone.  The area contains areas of moderate to high erosion which will be logged with tractor and cable yarding. The forester proposes extensive road reconstruction and new roads, as well as in-lieu practice for the use of heavy equipment on an existing seasonal roads and landing within a Class 1 watercourse.   The area contains Osprey habitat, Steelhead trout, as well as the California Red Legged Frog and Red Tree Vole.  A domestic water supply may be threatened. The ongoing Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program may be jeopardized.. Based on a ten year harvest cycle taking 800 MBF per decade over the next 40 years. Headwaters are part of the Jenner Headlands Project. Proposed for multiple habitat restoration projects by DFG in 2009 and identified as a Core area by NMFS for Coho recovery.

This plan was originally submitted in February 2008 and returned by the California Department of Forestry (Cal Fire) ten days later with four pages of corrections. Resubmitted in December 2008, the NTMP was returned again by Cal Fire ten days later with eight more pages of corrections. We are currently waiting for the plan to be resubmitted a third time.

This NTMP is an open ended perpetual logging plan with a 40 year planing horizon. Logging would occur every ten years. Like most timber plans, it does not acknowledge cumulative watershed effects and makes a claim that mitigations proposed in conjunction with logging and road construction can prevent them. Major issues, such as changes in hydrology associated with the NTMP go completely unrecognized.  Relevant data that show significant environmental problems are not analyzed or discussed, failing to meet CEQA standards for cumulative effects.

The fisheries section of the NTMP now acknowledges that Steelhead trout and Coho salmon are found in the watershed, and mentions that Sheephouse Creek is a restoration stream for the Coho Salmon Recovery Program, initiated in 2001. Sheephouse Creek is considered to be in the Willow Creek watershed assessment area, which contains Coho salmon, and therefore Sheephouse Creek is also considered to contain Coho.  Since 2004, Sheephouse Creek has been actively planted with young Coho.

While the RPF apparently downplays the numbers of Coho found in Sheephouse Creek, he neglects to mention NMFS considers Sheephouse Creek as a Core area for immediate restoration by NMFS in its draft Recovery Plan for Coho.

The RPF admits “The Sheephouse Creek watershed has been impacted in regards to sediment primarily from past timber harvesting.” The Ricioli Ranch NTMP then tries to make a case that the plan will be able to make corrective changes and improvements to the areas proposed for harvest and will have “a positive net effect upon the beneficial uses of the watershed resources,” without providing any evidence to support this claim as required by CEQA.

Despite stated objectives, the proposed activities under this NTMP are exactly the opposite of what is needed for recovery of fish and wildlife in Western Sonoma County and the lower Russian River.  The stated mitigations are inadequate to protect the fishery.  The plan is inconsistent with the Russian River Biological Opinion released by NMFS in September, 2009  and the NMFS draft Recovery Plan for Coho which is now being circulated among co-managing agencies. The NTMP should assist salmon and steelhead recovery in the Russian River basin instead of further contributing to their decline. It does not state even the most general goals for salmonid recovery nor include plans for increasing the salmon or steelhead resources of the state. The NTMP states “Erosion control measures contained in the Forest Practice Rules and the NTMP should mitigate the potential for sediment input into any watercourse on site or off site of the project area.” It concludes – “it is anticipated that no impacts will occur to the habitat or watershed resources which could significantly adversely impact these species.”

DFG has concluded, and NMFS agrees, that Coho salmon in the Central Coast Coho ESU are in serious danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range. Coho salmon once inhabited the entire Russian River basin, but are now restricted to the lower watersheds near the coast and within the redwood forest zone. A captive broodstock program to prevent the extinction of Coho salmon and re-establish new native populations has been started in 2001 at Warm Springs Dam Hatchery based on juveniles taken from Green Valley Creek. The first planting was done in 2004 in Ward, Mill, and Sheephouse Creeks, which were chosen for their quality habitat. Initial results are encouraging. The Ricioli Ranch NTMP places this multi million dollar, taxpayer subsidized program in jeopardy.  The forester states in his plan that “It is anticipated that no significant adverse impacts will occur to the habitat or watershed resources which could significantly adversely impact these species.” Yet he later admits “Changes in stream flow may adversely impact aquatic species if peak flows exceed the carrying capacity of the existing stream channel.” then, “An increase in late summer flows may be expected following timber harvesting. However this effect diminishes within a few years as the forest regenerates.”

Cold water fish species are recognized as a beneficial use of the Russian River, therefore some quantitative measurements of fish habitat also serve as water quality indicators for Sheephouse Creek. Data such as flow, channel type, temperatures, habitat type, embeddedness, shelter rating, substrate composition, canopy, and bank composition were last noted by DFG in an assessment of Sheephouse Creek’s habitat and biological inventory completed in 1996. This data is now included many times throughout the revised NTMP. The DFG report concluded that Sheephouse Creek and its tributaries should be managed as an anadromous, natural production stream. Access for migrating salmonids is an ongoing potential problem in the Southwest and Northeast tributaries of Sheephouse Creek, where log debris from upslope timber operations periodically moves downslope. Also, the report notes road related erosion should be identified and corrected. Lastly, cross sections to monitor sediment transport should continue to be monitored by DFG staff. Many of these legacy conditions were created by past logging entries by the very same family which proposes the current NTMP. While the RPF now repeatedly points out that the current NTMP has been designed with the protection, maintenance, or restoration of the beneficial uses of water or the populations and habitat of anadromous salmonids or listed aquatic or riparian associated species as significant objectives, nowhere does he state what will be done to correct conditions which were caused by past events which are today causing serious adverse environmental impact.

In 1999, biologists estimated there were only 100 adult Coho salmon in the Russian River and its tributaries, or 6% of what the population was in the 1940’s. A variety of factors led to this decline, including loss of habitat to farming, dams, overfishing, and logging. NOAA Fisheries has identified the failure of the Forest Practice Rules to adequately assess cumulative impacts, focusing in particular on their adverse effects on anadromous fisheries. The DFG has concluded that historical forestry practices impacted and continue to impact watersheds inhabited by northern California Coho salmon. Cumulative impacts from logging include an increased sediment yield, promotion for warming of ! stream temperatures, and an alteration of watershed hydrology.

The NTMP continues to fail to fully evaluate road impacts, especially for the proposed use of the contested easement road through Keller property to access the timber area. Much of the sediment that enters our California streams comes from road related erosion. Roads, such as that proposed for use along Sheephouse Creek, and which parallel the watercourse have the highest chronic sediment delivery. Over 1250 of new road and road reconstruction are proposed in the Ricioli Ranch NTMP along with 12 new crossings of class II and III watercourses, as well as replacement of a log stringer bridge over a class I crossing. If the Problem Sites and Landmarks section of the 1996 DFG Sheephouse Creek survey are any indication, stream side landslides are contributing sediment directly to Sheephouse Creek today. Roads that parallel watercourses for most of their length pose high risk of sediment yield and disrupt riparian function. Degradation affects many aspects of the riparian and wetland ecosystem: riparian vegetative cover decreases, bank and channel erosion increases, sediment deposition into channels increases, flooding increases, water quality decreases and recreational opportunities decrease. This is the very reason we are contesting the use of our easement road for logging purposes, decommissioning it and strongly encourage the use of an identified alternative road on Ricioli property and/or Berry property, which would have far less environmental impact upon the riparian area along Sheephouse Creek. While the Keller property is not included in the NTMP, it should be afforded the same protection of its riparian area that the FPR’s dictate with the WLPZ and EEZ. As this is private property, no in lieu practice is allowed as a deviation from standard rule.

The NTMP now admits the existence of many active and dormant landslides and areas of unstable soils which are associated with the timber harvest area. The RPF notes that the surface erosion hazard rating for the NTMP area is moderate to high, and the soils types found here to have a permeability considered moderate with runoff very rapid and a hazard of erosion at high. Slopes are steep (50%+) leading into the watercourse area. Trees are shown to be harvested on slide areas and road construction is proposed in unstable areas, as well as in slide prone areas. The Ricioli Ranch NTMP deals with slope stability and sediment contributions by implying mitigation measures are designed to reduce the potential for adverse impacts to the species of concern to a level of insignificance. Because of the unstable nature of the landscape on which this plan will be operated, the Ricioli Ranch NTMP will not be able to a chieve its goal of no net sediment discharge. Any addition of sediment into an impaired waterway is a significant adverse impact upon the environment and grounds to deny this NTMP. Because of the potential association of these landslides and unstable soils with existing and planned disturbances (logging), we have asked for further review with a CA Geologic Survey independent geologic investigation allowing for peer review of the findings. The investigation should be done independent of the Santa Rosa office.

I have asked the RPF through CDF if the removal of dominant overstory trees and the reduction in hardwoods will require the use of herbicides, but I have not received an answer nor does the NTMP seem to address this issue. Any use of herbicides and pesticides with the NTMP area will pose risk to the salmonids in Sheephouse Creek. This is well documented in the scientific literature.

The  NTMP does not fully explore cumulative watershed effects within the Sheephouse Creek watershed or the relevant Calwater Planning Watershed (Willow Creek), much less characterize environmental stressors that exist in the Russian River basin for this area. When assessing the cumulative impacts of a timber harvest plan that is proposed on any portion of a 303(d) listed water body that is located within or downstream of the proposed water body, the RPF must undertake additional analysis. He must assess the degree to which the proposed operations would result in impacts that may combine with stressors for which the water body was listed to further impact the! listed water body. Also, he must determine the extent to which these combined impacts would impair the beneficial uses of the water body.

The EPA has listed the Russian River as an impaired water body with regards to sediment and temperature. The NTMP makes the claim that mitigations to offset damage will actually improve current conditions and have a “net positive effect” upon the environment then if no harvesting of timber took place. The problem is that timber harvests are typically reviewed as individual impacts and not in conjunction with all the activities in the watershed. This would include the cumulative impacts of past, present, and proposed plans. Each timber harvest plan must be considered in its full environmental context and not in a vacuum. All significant environmental impacts of a proposed! timber harvest plan must be considered, whether those impacts may be expected to fall on or off the logging site. This would include the human and environmental impacts this plan would have upon the Keller property should the proposed easement road through their property be used for commercial logging.

After admitting that the Sheephouse Creek watershed has been impacted in regards to sediment primarily from past timber harvesting, the RPF briefly summarizes the recent timber activities in the Watershed and BAA approved within the last ten years, but fails to discuss their significance. If you were to look only at plans approved in the watershed over the last ten years, about 14% of the watershed has been impacted; but over the last fifteen years, 37% of the watershed has been impacted; and if you were to add in the two proposed plans for this watershed, over 56% of the watershed acres will have been impacted by logging. The RPF is ignoring the impacts this NTMP will have on the watershed by diluting its impact by only going back ten years and using the greater WAA and BAA to generate his ratios. What is lacking is a prudent limit or threshold for! timber harvest to avoid cumulative watershed effects. We have asked that the last five previous THP’s in this watershed be looked at in conjunction with the two currently proposed in order to truly understand cumulative effects. Questions which should be addressed are how much unstable ground was disturbed; how many miles of roads were constructed or rebuilt; and what monitoring data show that impacts from the plans are not already exceeding cumulative effects thresholds? What are the thresholds?

The Ricioli Ranch NTMP does admit the potential for increases in peak flow and potential for downstream impacts but feels this effect diminishes within a few years as the forest regenerates. The RPF requests that an in-lieu practice be approved that allows the use of heavy equipment in areas which are considered Class 1 WLPZ and EEZ. Extensive use of tractors and an increase in road usage will indeed increase peak discharges in Sheephouse Creek. This increased peak flow can scour stream channels and wash out large wood and spawning gravels. These effects on the habitat can greatly reduce salmonid carrying capacity. Can the RPF and Cal Fire guarantee that the carrying capacity of Sheephouse Creek’s anadromous fish runs is not compromised?

The Ricioli Ranch NTMP is interested in its short term economic yield as it fails to recognize the long term human and environmental effects it will have upon the Keller property, Sheephouse Creek, its watershed, and the Coho and Steelhead habitat. It is obvious that something is amiss in the California redwood ecosystem that is causing the decline of our salmon population. Avian indicator species such as the northern spotted owl and the osprey, which are found in the Sheephouse Creek watershed, cannot move to adjacent habitats if it is logged. A historical survey of the endangered, threatened, and sensitive species found over the last fifteen years in this watershed do not exist today in the same numbers, nor are they increasing. Congressman Mike Thompson, who has expressed concern for this NTMP, mentions Wild salmon are to the rivers and the watershed and the ocean what the canary is to the coal mine. Their decline in numbers indicates the loss of biodiversity in this watershed due to historical logging.

The Ricioli Ranch NTMP does not contain sufficient imformation on which to judge its impacts and, for this reason, the proposed plan should be denied. Data required should include a yearly population estimate of Coho salmon and Steelhead trout. Turbidity measurements for Sheephouse Creek should be required, as well as other factors of water quality. Threshold levels should be determined to know how much additional sediment the watercourse can tolerate without significantly effecting fishery productivity and domestic water uses downstream. The Ricioli Ranch NTMP will add to the impairment of water quality, cause further loss of fish habitat, and be counter productive for the recovery of Coho and the continued existence of Steelhead trout in Sheephouse Creek.

 

Death by freeway

January 31, 2008

by Rick Coates

Last month I witnessed something that sickened my heart. Undoubtedly you have noticed the highway 101 widening project. Not, of course, because traffic was at a standstill. This is the normal condition of 101. The clues were the CalTrans trucks, heavy equipment and flaggers. But did you also notice the many large, stiff carcasses laying along the shoulder? I refer to the redwoods slaughtered to make way for freeway expansion? These slain trees symbolize our Transportation madness.

Anyone who has studied such matters know that the automobile causes more environmental and health damage than any other source. It distorts our land use decisions with sprawl development. It paves over ground water recharge areas. Its toxics fill our cancer wards and its burdens our trauma centers. It maims parents and orphans children. It fuels our wars. It heats our planet, literally leading us “down the road” to climate disaster. And climate change will destroy our forests.

The safety record of the automobile when compared to that of trains on a passenger-per-mile basis is abysmal. And most train accidents involve, yes, an automobile.

Our so-called leaders refuse to give us a choice. Their policy is to devote more precious land to the automobile. They cannot see that the goal is to move people, not vehicles, in a safe, comfortable and efficient way. We need to remove cars from the freeway, not make more room for them.

Some have the audacity to complain of subsidies for trains. The most heavily subsidized form of transportation is the automobile. Hidden subsidies at every level, from the parking spaces that local business’s are required to provide to federal tax breaks for massive oil tankers, it drains our public treasury and our private accounts. The price at the pump is but a tiny fraction of the true cost of the automobile. Return to some free-market utopia sans subsidies, and automobiles would be melted down into rails.

These trees, sacrificed on an altar of steel, rubber and concrete, once cleansed the air of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. They cooled the air and help protected the soil from driving rain. They shielded us from the cacophony of road noise. They turned fog into ground water and their roots channeled rain into our aquifers. And they made the long slow journey on the ugly freeway tolerable. I will miss them.

I have begun to know some trees

March 1, 1998

by Janet Greene

I have begun to know some trees. Every morning I enter their home, a 27 acre ridge top grove on Fitzpatrick Lane, a few miles outside of Occidental, California. Sometimes I take off my shoes, letting my toes taste the cool spongy moss that covers the forest path. All around me are the tall tree, the old trees, the coastal redwoods. Their botanical name is Sequoia Sempervirens. They were given this name in 1874 by botanist Stephen Endlicher to honor Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian noted for creating an alphabet for his people. Sempervirens means evergreen. The redwoods remain green all year, even when the big leaf maples discard their chlorophyll coats and sail like yellow kites through the Fall days. Only the outer branches of redwoods show a bit of brown that will be sloughed off in the first rains.

With these rains come the winds that whip and tear at these trees, hurtling branches as thick as my body down to the ground. I find these spears piercing the earth or strewn among the ferns and huckleberry bushes. During the storms, I listen to the roar and watch the trees dancing with the wind. Their pliability is a strong adaptation for the wild coastal weather. They have learned the lesson of bending, of not resisting the wind currents. Trees do fall however, especially if they are on the outer edge of a stand or isolated by logging. Their vulnerability to wind is due to the shallowness of their root structure, from four to six feet deep, amazing for a tree that often exceeds three hundred feet in height! Redwood roots need to be close to the surface to collect the moisture from fog drip. When sediment from floods covers the root area, a tree will send up vertical roots to reach the optimal distance from the surface. To compensate for its shallow depth, redwood tree roots extend several hundred feet away from the tree. They also intertwine with the roots of their neighbors, giving them added support. Redwood trees are virtually “holding hands” in the earth.

I have become increasingly intertwined with these trees since their lives became endangered in 1994. One March morning I saw blue lines painted on many of these trees. I soon discovered that these marked trees were to be cut down and dragged by a tractor out of their home. Several neighbors and I formed Friends of the Old Trees, a citizens group committed to saving these trees. We discovered that approximately 100 truckloads of logs, about a half million board feet, would be taken out of the grove along our one lane, dead end road during this first logging. 25-30% of the trees would be removed. Successive loggings could occur in 10-14 year increments. The biological integrity of this remnant ridge top old growth grove would be destroyed along with the homes of the plants and animals that inhabited it.

Friends of the Old Trees held a meeting with the owners to listen to their concerns and express our wish that the trees be allowed to survive. Because the owners were adamant in their desire to cut the trees, we hired Paul Carroll, an attorney who had won several major environmental law cases. Paul Carroll and Friends of the Old Trees began a battle to save these trees.

At the urging of members of Friends of the Old Trees, the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District quietly approached the owners with several offers. Several appraisals were done, but the offers were rebuffed. Friends of the Old Trees also approached the California Coastal Conservancy and Save the Redwoods League. They could not help, they said, unless there was a willing seller.

Forest Unlimited, a Sonoma County forest protection non-profit organization, began educating Friends of the Old Trees about the process of fighting a logging plan. I soon found that the time lines established by the California Department of Forestry (CDF) were as shifting as an ocean beach. Meeting dates were often changed on the morning of the meeting. I also discovered that the language of the forest practice laws and the “Timber Harvest Plan” was full of nebulous, illogical and often erroneous phrases such as “Generally the stand will appear very much the same after logging.” (p. 2, Memorandum to Glen Newman, Deputy Director of Operations of the Department of Forestry, August 29 1997). This statement was ridiculous since the forester planned to remove more than one fourth of the timber.

But there was a deeper issue involved. Cutting 25-30% of 27 acres could have minimal impact if ancient redwoods forests were numerous. However, less than 4% of virgin redwood stands remains on the Earth. The rest of this vast ancient ecosystem that once stretched from Monterey County to Southern Oregon is gone, victim to the voracious appetite for wood to fuel the early trains, build the houses of San Francisco during the gold rush, and construct the decks and furniture of houses around the world. These few ancient trees are all we have left. However, there is no law to protect old growth redwood trees, some of them over 2000 years old. Their value is seen only in board feet.

Few people realize that the redwood is a relict species, our link back to the time of the dinosaurs, 135 million years ago. I wonder if these trees evolved into the tallest species on earth to evade the nibblings of these giant animals. Redwood forests once covered North America, Europe, Greenland and Asia as recently as twenty-five million years ago. The cooling and drying of the climate restricted their range to a tiny strip of land 400 miles long and a few miles wide. This is the last home of the redwoods. The mild Mediterranean climate provides warm wet winters and mild, dry summers. The Pacific ocean provides the summer moisture in the form of fog. It is the redwood’s amazing ability to utilize the fog that has assured it’s survival in the climate shifts of the earth.

Redwoods are amazing fog catchers. Some mornings the rolling white clouds drift from the ocean up the canyons. Other days the fog hangs among the trees like a pale, thin curtain. Through it, the sunlight splits into long milky shafts. Tiny water droplets collect on the flat green needles and fall in a shower of crystals. I stand entranced and drenched by this silent spectacle. The surrounding meadow is dry and sunlit, for fog does not precipitate so easily on thin grass stems. The water droplets also evaporate more quickly in the drier, warmer air. Redwoods humidify and cool the air. They make their own microclimate by transpiring water through their needles into the surrounding atmosphere. They also create their own water supply for the dry summer. Some of the fog drip is absorbed into the spongy earth where it is collected by the extensive root system. The rest of this moisture sinks lower into the ground and becomes part of the water table.

The ability of redwoods to capture water from fog has a great impact for those of us who live in this water scarce area. We depend on these trees for adding to our water supply. This understanding of the interplay between redwoods, fog drip and our water resources became one of the main issues during the Timber Harvest Plan review. Friends of the Old Trees contended that fog drip contributes significantly to our water supply, and that the the Timber Harvest Plan did not address the cumulative impact of logging on this effect.

The Timber Harvest Plan also dealt superficially with the species that co-exist with redwoods. Approximately 1,700 species of animals, birds and invertebrates depend on a live redwood . Another 4000 species live off of, or under a fallen redwood tree. The Department of Forestry’s response to the plight of these organisms was that some species would migrate out and return after the harvest. This response infuriated me. What would they do? Check into the local motel? What would happen to the great horned owls that nested in the grove? Many nights I hear them calling to each other. Several neighbors reported hearing the endangered northern spotted owl.

The grove is also home to bat colonies that roost in goose-pen trees, so called because early settlers kept their geese in these large, burned out hollows. Two of these trees are almost twelve feet in diameter. Four of these trees were marked for cutting. I have stood inside these chambers and listened to the small high pitched sounds of the hidden bats. The “expert” hired by the department of forestry to investigate these bats reported that his flashlight batteries were not working and therefore he could not identify them. After consulting several bat experts, I placed newspaper on the floor of the thirteen goose-pen trees, collected bat guano that fell on the paper and sent it to bat biologist Dr. William Rainey. He identified the guano as coming either from the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) or the pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus). The pallid bat is a species of special concern that was demoted from the threatened list with many other bat species. Perhaps this threatened status was “threatening” the extensive logging of forests. Dr. Rainey also stated that goose-pen trees are uncommon in most redwood stands and provide key roosting habitats for bats. He stated “It is hard to imagine a site in which cutting goose-pen trees does not permanently degrade a redwood stand as bat habitat.” (letter from Dr. William Rainey to Mr. Tom Osipowich, California Department of Forestry, September 11, 1997).

What is old growth? This term is not defined in the Forest Practice Act. Obviously, old growth or first growth refers to those trees that were standing before the European settlers began cutting the trees in the mid 1800’s. According to the 1880 History of Sonoma County , the first lumber mill in the Occidental area was built in 1859. By 1876, there were three sawmills in the Occidental area. The number increased to six in 1877. Much of the lumber was carried out of Occidental on the North Pacific Coast Railroad which reached Occidental in 1876. (p. 11, An Historical and Anecdotal Walking Tour of the small (But Fascinating)Village of Occidental, California, Amie Hill, 1997).

The early loggers did a thorough job of removing most of the the redwoods from the surrounding area. Logging continued into this century. The forests around Occidental are all second and third growth. Only the Grove contains a large number of first growth trees. Why is this? Perhaps in the earlier days these trees were too far away from the mills. But the forests adjacent to the Grove have all been heavily logged in recent years. The mystery of this island of ancient trees lies buried with the grandfather of the present owners. According to many Occidental residents, this gentleman who purchased the grove in 1940 wanted these trees never to be cut. And so they have remained to this day.

Despite hundreds of letters voicing deep concerns and public and scientific testimony at the review meetings, the Department of Forestry approved the logging plan in April of 1994. With logging imminent, we hired Paul Carroll, an attorney who had won several major environmental cases. Friends of the Old Trees filed a restraining order in Sonoma County Superior Court. The restraining order was granted on June 2,1995 preventing logging until our lawsuit was heard by the court. To raise money for lawyer’s fees, Friends of the Old Trees organized a series of benefit concerts. I gave the first concert, playing harpsichord with other musician friends. Other concerts included Scottish fiddlers, Irish harp music and Italian opera.

The strain and anxiety grew daily as we waited for the outcome of our lawsuit. Often I would stand among these trees and whisper “we will save you, and you will help us.” Finally on February 14, 1995, Judge Sawyer of the Sonoma County Superior Court ruled in favor of Friends of the Old Trees. Along with the fog drip issue, Judge Sawyer ruled that the Department of Forestry and the owners violated the California Environmental Quality Act. (CEQA) by not considering alternatives to the plan such as selling the grove to the Open Space District. However, the battle was just beginning.

The owners and the California Department of Forestry appealed the decision. Another hearing was held before the three judges of the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco. In early March of 1997, the court upheld the decision of Judge Sawyer. Undaunted, the CDF took the case to the California Supreme Court. In May, 1997, the court refused to hear the case. In effect, the Supreme Court let stand Judge Sawyer’s decision that the timber harvest plan was illegal. The court’s decision set major legal precedents that force the Department of Forestry to consider alternatives and cumulative environmental damage for all future timber harvest plans.

However, our time of celebration was short. The owners of the grove filed a second logging plan with CDF in early August of 1997. They increased the number of trees to be cut in the new plan!

In their earlier reports the Department of Forestry and related agency representatives made great effort to avoid the word “old growth” in describing the trees in the Grove. Instead they used the word “residual.”. What a difference a word makes! They described the Grove as second growth containing a few “residuals.” Later, the term “old growth” did creep into their vocabulary. But the reports contained many conflicting statements concerning the fate of these big trees. For example, page 1 of a preharvest inspection states that “The true old growth trees in the stand will not be harvested as part of this plan.” On page eight, however, the author changes his mind and says that “Only some of the old growth residuals in the stand are being harvested.” (Memorandum, to Glen Newman, Deputy Director of Operations of the Department of Forestry, August 29 1997).

The Department of Forestry also completely ignored the endangered marbled murrelet, a small and elusive bird that spends its days on the ocean and flies inland at dusk to roost on flat branches, or platforms of redwood trees. The Department of Forestry claimed repeatedly that the grove did not meet the protocol for “potential murrelet habitat.” The definition was rather simple: large trees with wide platform limbs within 60 miles of the coast. We could see the Pacific Ocean just five miles away from the edge of the grove.

Because there is no law in California to protect old growth redwoods trees, Friends of the Old Trees could not use the old growth issue in its lawsuit. But I was deeply disturbed by the Department of Forestry’s purposely unclear and erroneous description of the trees. With the help of several friends, I conducted a survey of tree diameters. We measured 153 trees. The results showed the following: 118 trees were five feet or more in diameter. Of these, 29 trees were six feet or more in diameter, 28 trees were between 7 and 8 feet, and 22 trees were between 8 and 11.5 feet in diameter. A retired logger and I also took bore samples of some trees and found them to be several hundred years old. One fallen trees was 375 years old. This information gave conclusive evidence that the grove contained a large number of old growth trees. I sent this information to the Department of Forestry. They ignored it. But I think it had some bearing on the Fish and Game Official’s hesitancy in approving the Timber Harvest Plan.

Desperate, A friend and I made several phone calls to Ken Hoffman of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency which oversees the Federal Endangered Species Act. I sent Mr. Hoffman photographs of what I considered possible murrelet nesting habitat along with my calculations of tree diameters. He visited the grove, determined that it did indeed contain suitable murrelet habitat, and recommended, over CDF’s objection, that a two year survey be conducted. This survey began in April, 1998. This second Timber Harvest Plan was now on hold.

In my struggle to save these trees I have begun to know them. In my attempts to measure their gigantic girths, I’ve reached, scrambled and walked around hundreds of trees. I have pressed my face, arms and body on their shaggy bark and tried to avoid the poison oak vines that grow up their trunks. In attempting to measure one of the largest trees I once stepped on a wild bee nest. In my haste to avoid being stung, I dropped my notebook containing the stand data near the nest. It took some courage and lots of protective clothing to venture back before daybreak to retrieve the book. During my video and photographic documentation I have become familiar with many of the trees, their shape and structure. During full moon nights I have followed the white glowing path into the Grove. This is the magic time, when the trees seem to reveal their inner secrets in great stillness. At sunsets the trees blaze loudly with an orange glow.

The Marbled Murrelet survey was completed in August, 1999. According to the report, no murrelets were found. The surveyor was the forester employed by the owners. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the survey was incomplete, not done according to protocol, and requested that another one year survey be done. That survey began in Spring, 2000, and was completed in August, 2000. But in May, before the survey was complete, Caryl Hart of Land Paths, a local land trust and trail advocacy organization, showed Todd Dawson, a researcher with UC Berkeley, the Grove. Dawson was so enthusiastic that he called the owners directly. Three-way conversations ensued and Land Paths offered to purchase an option to buy the Grove.

While the owners considered the offer, their liability for attorney’s fees in the lawsuit and the likelihood of a second lawsuit, the forester completed the murrelet survey. Again, he found no murrelets. At this point Friends of the Old Trees informed the owners that they intended to sue again because the second logging plan failed to correct the errors of the first. The owners wisely decided to accept Land Path’s offer and sold them an option. This bought us time. But we now had a deadline to raise $2.2 million to complete the sale.

I have learned some the redwood’s rhythms. In December and January the male flowers release their showers of golden pollen into the air. The female flowers ripen into small cones, less than 1.5 inches long. Each cone releases 90-150 seeds in the Fall. Of the millions of seeds produced by one tree, only a few will grow into a mature tree.

Fire is another rhythm in a redwood forest. The Grove contains veterans of many fires, their trunks darkened and their innards burned out. Redwood trees are highly resistant to fire due to the tannin content in their thick bark and their water based sap. If they are damaged by fire, new sprouts will grow from dormant buds in the burl, a large mass of meristematic cells which forms at the base of the young tree. Fire is also is an allay of redwoods, because it creates the bare mineral soils needed for seed germination.

There is a rhythm to calm and crisis, interminable legal delays and abrupt court decisions, patient waiting and frenzied fundraising. Land Paths, Friends of the Old Trees and Forest Unlimited scrambled to raise the money. The dominoes began to fall, one at a time. Forest Unlimited held a fund-raiser with Julia Butterfly Hill and Micky Hart raising both money and public awareness. Friends of the Old Trees generated contributions from private donors totaling $500,000. The Open Space Authority, impressed with the public support, recommended to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors the approval of $1.2 million for a forever-wild easement on the grove. On July 18, 2000, the Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the Open Space money! The Coastal Conservancy and Save the Redwood League then joined the party with sufficient money to reach $2.2 million. Land Paths now manages the grove for research, educational field trips, and limited public access.

In the end, the cooperation of many organizations and thousands of citizens weaving their musical themes to create a fugue then a symphony, saved the grove. For five years I have listened to the music of these trees. They sing with the wind. There are many different songs, some fierce, some gentle. I can almost understand the language of this music. It blends with the hammering of acorn woodpeckers housing their nuts in the upper trunks, the whistles and chortles of the ravens, and the sweet spring song of the thrush.

On warm summer nights I sleep on my porch breathing in the oxygen from these trees, and giving to them my exhalation of carbon dioxide. I wonder, where do these trees leave off and I begin? As there roots are intertwined with each other, so is my breath with theirs, so is my life with theirs.