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.

CalFire collusion with CGS to violate the law

by Rick Coates

California Geological Survey (AKA Department of Mines and Geology) is failing to protect the public health and safety and public resources in collusion with the California Department of Forestry (AKA CalFire) . We have seen a series of disasters caused directly by logging conducted under Timber Harvest Plans (THPs) incorrectly approved by the CalFire and the California Geological Survey (CGS). Homes have been destroyed, water sources made unfit for human use, and fisheries destroyed. On several occasions, lives have been threatened.

This is a result of the inappropriate political influence of the timber industry on CalFire and CGS. At issue here is CGS’s failure to obey both statute and regulations (as outlined in detail below).

The problem is long-standing, pervasive and dangerous. I have been reviewing THPs for nearly 20 years and have noted clear misconduct by CGS in several respects. These problems fall into five categories:

1. CGS permits Registered Professional Foresters (RPF’s) to practice geology without a license.

2. CGS accepts RPF’s claims without substantial evidence in the THP record.

3. CGS uses taxpayer funds to provide consulting to RPF’s and the Companies they represent, fixing mistakes and doing geology that should have been done by an independent geologist.

4. CGS, after providing missing work, then “reviews” their own work, violating the principal of independent review.

5. CGS permits Geologists and Engineering Geologists to submit reports to THP review that are not in conformance with statute or regulation

I will consider each of these points in detail:

1. CGS permits Registered Professional Foresters (RPF’s) to practice geology without a license.

The Forest Practice Rules [Section 1034(x)(10)] require that an RPF provide a map with the location of known unstable area or slides in the THP. It does not, however, require or even permit him to locate them himself or evaluate their stability. That determination clearly falls within the expertise of a licensed geologist. [See Rules and Regulations of the Board for Geologists and Geophysicists, Section 3003(d) and (f)] Just as he must seek advice from other professionals in other areas when his expertise is limited, so the RPF must seek the expertise of a licensed geologists to determine the location of slides and unstable areas. Determination of the location and stability of slides clearly falls under the definition of “professional geological work” as defined in the Rules and Regulations of the Board for Geologists an Geophysicists [Article 1, Section 3003]. Only licensed Geologist or Engineering Geologists are permitted to do professional geological work..

The Forest Practice Act specifically states [Article I, Section 4514(c)] that neither the Board of Forestry nor its regulations may limit “the power of any state agency in the enforcement or administration of any provision of law which it is specifically authorized or required to enforce or administer.” Therefore, neither CGS nor CDF has any authority to determine what constitutes work that requires a licensed geologist. The Board of Geologists and Geophysicists has that authority.

Furthermore, the Professional Foresters Law [Section 752(b)] specifically limits the services an RPF may offer and notes that he may need to utilize the services of other qualified experts. Specifically included in the list of other experts is “geologists”. In addition, Section 772 of this same law makes it clear that the Board of Forestry does not have the authority to certify or license an RPF as a geologist. Add to that CCR, Title 14, Chapter 10, Section 1602(b) which states that “A Registered Professional Forester (RPF) shall perform forestry services only in those subjects in which he or she is competent by training or experience.” Once again “geologists” is listed among those whose services he may need to utilize.

Yet, in spite of the clear dictates of law, CGS routinely permits foresters to locate slides and determine their stability without the aid of a licensed Geologist or Engineering Geologist. The public has often been forced to hire a genuine geologist to review the information in THPs. Repeatedly determinations by foresters that CGS approved have been found to be professionally inadequate, inaccurate and incomplete. I have yet to see CGS reject a THPs geological evidence as incomplete or inaccurate without such a challenge from the public.

2. CGS accepts RPF’s claims without substantial evidence in the THP record.

THP review is a Certified Program under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Act requires that conclusions of “no significant adverse environmental effect” be made on the basis of “substantial evidence in the record” of review. Statements without such backing are termed “conclusory” and courts have repeatedly ruled that approval of a THP based upon conclusory statements is an abuse of discretion. The RPF’s statements regarding the location and stability of slides is not considered “substantial evidence” because he is not qualified to make such determinations. Yet, CGS routinely accepts RPF conclusions despite the lack of a supporting geologic report by a licensed geologist. CEQA requires information in a THP be “site specific”. The only geologic evidence ever offered by an RPF is an outdated geologic map of a scale too large to determine site-specific slides.

3. CGS inappropriately uses taxpayer funds to provide consulting to RPF’s and the Companies they represent, fixing mistakes and doing geology that should have been done by an independent geologist.

It is not appropriate for a State agency to provide consulting services to a private party at taxpayer expense, especially when that agency is also charged with reviewing the profession adequacy of the work of that party or their consultant. Furthermore, the scope of geologic review on a logging plan by CGS is limited to conformance with professional standards, the requirements of law and regulation of a geologic report submitted with the plan.

Notwithstanding, CGS routinely and inadequately evaluates the geologic conditions on THPs doing some of the work that independent geologists should be doing. They pretend that it is “review” but the work they do exceeds the scope of that which a reviewer does. The work is more akin to a (deficient) geologic report. They rightly do not call their work a “report ” (they refer to it as a “memorandum”) because it does not meet the legal requirements of a geologic report. But neither does it meet the legal requirements of a “review”.

Forest Unlimited commissioned a report by Engineering Geologist Ray Waldbaum titled “Standard of Care For Engineering Geologic Investigation”. It reviews the adequacy of the geologic analysis for a specific logging plan, THP 1-06-008 SON and the CGS’s Geological “review” of that THP. It concludes that there is no legitimate geology presented in the THP for CGS to review and that the work done by CGS is contrary to CGS’s own guidelines and workshop for geologists.

4. CGS, after providing missing work, then “reviews” their own work, violating the principal of independent review.

It is not proper under regulations contained in Note 45 of 50 the Geology Board for the reviewer to provide the geologic work for the RPF and then “review” it himself. The task of a reviewer is to determine the qualifications of the contributor to the THP and the adequacy of their work. They are not to second guess the conclusions of the professional unless the conclusions clearly do not follow from the data provided. Because the only evidence presented by a licensed geologist is that done by CGS, this evaluation lacks any independent review.

5. CGS permits Geologists and Engineering Geologists to submit reports to THP review that are not in conformance with statute or regulation

After considerable effort CDF, CGS and the Board of Geologists and Geophysicists agreed on guidelines (actually regulations) governing the content of geological reports for Timber Harvest Plans. Specifically Note 45 (Guidelines For engineering Geologic Reports For Timber Harvesting Plans) and Note 50 (Factors Affecting Landslides in Forested Terrain) spell out what information must be included in a geologic report for THPs. In the rare instances that foresters actually submit such a report, CGS fails to insist that these regulations are complied with. Checking for compliance with the regulations is, of course, one of the main duties of a reviewer.

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.

Death by freeway

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 alter 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

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.