Forest ‘Restoration’ Rule is Ruse to Increase Logging

By Chad T. Hanson
January 31, 2018

The U.S. Forest Service recently proposed a sweeping effort to identify aspects of environmental analysis and public participation to be “reduced” or “eliminated” regarding commercial logging projects in our national forests. The Trump administration is attempting to spin this as an effort to promote “increased efficiency” for the expansion of forest “restoration,” but these are just euphemisms for more destructive logging.

Last summer, the Trump administration endorsed the Resilient Federal Forests Act, an extreme bill that would dramatically curtail environmental analysis and restrict public participation to increase logging of old forests and post-fire clear-cutting in our national forests. The bill passed the House of Representatives in the fall but stalled in the Senate. This new regulatory proposal is simply an effort to implement the same pro-logging agenda without going through Congress.

The proposal targets an astonishing “80 million acres of National Forest System land” for commercial logging — much of it comprising old-growth forests and remote roadless areas — based on the claim that logging and clear-cutting of these areas is needed, ostensibly to save them from fire and native bark beetles. Not so.

The overwhelming scientific consensus among U.S. forest and fire ecologists is that these natural processes are essential for the ecological health of our forests, including large events that create significant patches of dead trees, known as “snag forest habitat.” It may seem counterintuitive to some, but the science is telling us, loudly and clearly, that this unique forest habitat is comparable to old-growth forest in terms of native biodiversity and wildlife abundance. Many native species depend upon patches of dead trees, and the understory vegetation that grows in such patches, for food and homes. Forests naturally regenerate after fires, including the largest ones such as the 2013 Rim Fire in the Sierra Nevada, creating a complex and rich ecosystem.

The Trump administration’s claim that increased logging will curb forest fires is equally suspect. Science tells us that forests with the fewest environmental protections, and the most logging, actually burn more intensely, not less. This is because logging companies remove relatively non-combustible tree trunks, and leave behind flammable “slash debris” — kindling-like branches and twigs — and remove much of the forest canopy, which otherwise provides cooling shade.

The Forest Service has now begun promoting the notion that the 257,000-acre Rim Fire emitted about 12 million tons of CO2, based on a computer model that makes the mythological assumption that trees are essentially vaporized during fires. This is part of the “catastrophic wildfire” narrative that the Trump administration has weaponized to argue for rollbacks of environmental laws, and more commercial logging.

In fact, even in the most intensely burned patches, only about 2 percent of the total biomass of trees is actually consumed. Don’t be fooled. Trump’s proposal is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on our national forests for the benefit of the logging industry.

Chad T. Hanson is director of the John Muir Project (www.johnmuirproject.org) and the author of “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix” (Elsevier, 2015).

Working Forest Management Plan rules challenged

In 2013 the California Legislature passed SB 904 which created a new logging plan called a Working Forest Management Plan (WFMP).  The industry-dominated Board of Forestry was required to promulgate regulations implementing the WFMP.  True to form, the Board attempted to subvert the strong environmental requirements of the legislation.  Consequently in November Environmental Protection Information Center, Coast Action Group and challenged the regulations in court.  Forest Unlimited has financially supported this suit.

Oral arguments on the case were heard in Alamedia Superior Court on Friday April 20 and members of Forest Unlimited were there.  The Atroney General’s office and a CalFire attorney defended the regulations.  Well know attorney Sharon Duggan represented our side.  Ms. Duggan is the author of Guide to the California Forest Practice Act and Related Laws, a tome used by attorneys and ordinary citizens alike to understand forestry law.

Alan Lavine, Director of Coast Action Group, said “I think we did well in Court.  Sharon Duggan was well prepared and thorough in her presentation on the issues.   The Attorney General’s Deputy was not prepared as she admitted.  Judge was very thorough and had obviously done a lot of reading and studying and was well versed on the details.”

The Judge seemed a little upset with the AG.   For example, in response to one of his cogent questions she had no response.  The judge responded “Really -that is all you have?  Your kidding !, You must have more. That is it?  Huh.”  In contrast, Sharon Duggan did a masterful job.  After viewing Sharons’s performance, Forest Unlimited’s Executive Director Rick Coates commented “It was a pleasure to watch Sharon demonstrate her well-honed skills.  I am optimistic that the judge will rule in our favor.”

We should see the final ruling a week or so.  Hopefully, the Board of Foresty will learn that it can not just do whatever it’s wants and must actually follow the law.  Given their history, we know that is a lot to ask.

Felta Creek Logging Court Dates Set

Friends of Felta Creek have challenged the approval of a logging plan 1-17-017 SON which will damage the salmon run in Felta Creek!

Please attend these court dates if you can. Showing the judge that lots of people care about protecting Felta Creek and stopping this timber harvest plan can only strengthen our case.

May 16, 3:00pm Courtroom 18, 3055 Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa is the hearing to hold off timber operations.

August 17, 3:00pm Courtroom 18, 3055 Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa is the main trial hearing where Friends of Felta Creek is suing CalFire for approving this THP.

April 13, 2018: Dogwood Logging Plan on the Gualala River is Back!

STOP “Dogwood” floodplain logging plan! Revised version as bad as original.

Rick and Jeanne Jackson
Gualala, CA

APR 13, 2018 — Friends of Gualala River, FoGR, along with Forest Unlimited, is taking legal action against the resubmitted Timber Harvest Plan “Dogwood,”.

This THP that would log in the floodplain of the Gualala River. CAL FIRE approved this Logging Plan on March 30, 2018.  Dogwood contains the largest tracts of mature redwoods in floodplains, beginning at the boundary of Gualala Point Regional Park’s campground and extending up over 5 miles of the river.

These floodplains are wholly special riparian habitats: they are part of the river, which naturally occupies the floodplain when it flows over its banks. It’s a potent natural sediment trap, or “sink” for the silt and clay that runs off of the eroding slopes and landslides above it. When its vegetation is flattened, the floodplain loses its capacity to trap sediment. This plan in effect logs the river itself, as the river includes its floodplains.

The Gualala River’s floodplain supports extensive seasonal wetlands. Salmon and steelhead feed and fatten on the floodplain, including its wetlands, during those special flooding events such as we had in early April.

Among the environmental reasons and legal basis for the lawsuit to protect the Gualala River are:

• Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT) essentially re-filed the same unacceptable GRI Dogwood logging plan, without substantively addressing either public or FoGR comments.

• GRT dismissed public concerns, and disregarded meaningful reduced project alternatives.

• GRT dismissed the existence of seasonal wetlands in the floodplains, which is not credible.

• GRT disregarded CAL FIRE’s own scientific guidance on how to assess riparian redwood logging plans. They didn’t even assess the effects of winter 2017 flooding of the floodplain on the part of Dogwood they did harvest (lower Buckeye Creek) or compare it with unharvested areas to validate their predictions of how benign their floodplain logging plan is. If they were serious about environmental protection, they would have at least monitored to verify their predictions and assurances. They didn’t.

• GRT didn’t assess the endangered red-legged frog adult impacts during the non-breeding season, when they move away from breeding ponds and into floodplains to feed at night and hide out under cover by day. They treated frogs impacts as though they were in a hot, arid inland climate (inactive or close to ponds in the dry season) rather than on the more humid coast (where they move overland in foggy, cool weather and at night). And the plan still says the nearest known occurrences of red-legged frogs are 21 miles away, contradicting added information that they are present in the plan area! Careless and confusing contradictions show how sloppy the RPF and CALFIRE are in preparing a revised plan, even after losing last year’s CEQA lawsuit to FoGR and their allies.

• GRT didn’t even do a cumulative IMPACT analysis of the floodplain logging. They just tallied up cumulative PROJECTS: total plan acreages of different silvicultural treatments in other logging plans, and didn’t even distinguish acreages of floodplain from slopes, or wetlands from non-wetlands. So, there was no assessment of the cumulative environmental effects of those projects on fish, wildlife, floodplains, wetlands, plants, etc.

• The THP acknowledges that the river “regularly floods its banks,” but omits any reference to the special salmonid feeding habitat it provides when it does, or the impacts of disturbing the floodplain soils and habitat with skid road use, logging, and hauling. That’s why there are special scientific guidelines and rules for assessing logging plans that venture into floodplains. And GRT and CALFIRE either disregards them or asks for “exceptions” to the rules. We refuse to allow this.

• GRT and CAL FIRE really didn’t fix anything in the old THP. They made minor technical amendments that still dismiss the public’s legitimate concerns.

FoGR and their allies will continue their fight against this egregious logging plan, which would harm the river, its floodplain, and the wildlife that live in or beside it. Logging in the floodplain is a terrible idea that needs to be stopped before it inflicts damage on the Gualala River.
The importance of this area is demonstrated by Sonoma County plans to make it centerpiece of River Park as far back as 1950s, when timber and salmon fishing were still booming.
Logging of Dogwood is set to start on May 15, 2018. FoGR and their allies will be in court before that date. Please help us in our fight by donating to Friends of Gualala River. http://gualalariver.org/

Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) is a non-profit association dedicated to protecting the Gualala River watershed and the species that rely…
http://gualalariver.org

March 2018: Felta Creek: Last Wild Coho Creek in Russian River Watershed

Felta Creek Threatened By Aggressive Logging Plan

March 2018:  UPDATE:  CALFIRE HAS WITHDRAWN THIS PLAN FOR NOW!  The landowner lost permission to use a neighbor’s property making the plan infeasible.  The battle is not over because it could be resubmitted at any time.

(A Donations button earmarked for Friends of Felta Creek is located at the end of this article)

June 19, 2017, Healdsburg, CA — As wild Coho salmon have disappeared in every tributary of the Russian River watershed over the past decades, Felta Creek remains the rare exception. Even in the low fish years of 2006 and 2008, endangered wild Coho salmon survived in the shady pools of this boulder strewn west county stream. This spring, UC researchers discovered multiple spawning beds, or “redds,” in the creek’s gravel bars. But the fate of this fragile habitat now lies in the hands of an absentee landowner with an aggressive logging agenda.

In late 2015, Humboldt County resident Ken Bareilles bought a 160-acre Timberland Production Zone property that includes a core section of Felta Creek’s headwaters. Bareilles, a logger and lawyer, filed a Timber Harvest Plan with CalFire (formerly the California Department of Forestry). Barring some act of intervention, the plan — THP 1-17-017 SON (Fox Meadows) — is on its way to approval.

The fact that Bareilles’ plan progressed this far this quickly has alarmed both professionals and community members. Of the 160-acre property, registered forester Randy Jacobszoon’s plan calls for logging on 146 acres. Of that, 130 acres are slated for Group Selection and Transition Harvest — essentially, aggressive multi-acre patch cuts. According to the California Geological Survey, “site slopes range from 10 to 80 percent gradients … geologic mapping identifies dormant and active deep-seated landslides as underlying the plan area.” How will heavy equipment, logging and hauling during the winter affect a slide-prone landscape?

“I have reviewed logging plans in Sonoma County for over 20 years, and this is one of the worst,” says Larry Hanson, president of Forest Unlimited. “First, there is the delicate and biologically important stream that runs through it. Second, there are critical safety issues related to school children and local residents who use this one-lane dirt road to get in and out of their homes. Finally, there are climate impacts.”

NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, recognizing the critical need to protect this watershed, recommended a more sustainable approach to limit erosion and preserve more of the forest canopy. In a public meeting on Thursday June 15, 2017, Anthony Lukacic, the CalFire official in charge of recommending the proposed timber harvest plan for approval, said one of NOAA/NMFS’s recommendations made it into the final plan. He considered but rejected others, deciding that CalFire’s Forest Practice Rules would suffice if adequately implemented.

According to Russian Riverkeeper, the stakes couldn’t be higher. “Losing one of the single best juvenile Coho Salmon habitats on Felta Creek that get baby Coho through the hot summer months would be a massive blow,” says Russian Riverkeeper president Don McEnhill.

Community members and county officials are alarmed by the scope of the proposed hauling operation. The landowner has an easement to use Felta Creek Road, a private one-lane gravel road that winds above Felta Creek. Four full-time families reside there amidst some grape cultivation. The use and maintenance of this rural road have been sufficient to balance light traffic and the health of the fishery. But Felta Creek Road has never been an industrial logging haul road.

Community members have been told to expect 13 logging trucks per day in 6 separate shifts. Two wooden bridges, privately installed and maintained, have not been inspected to see if they can withstand this kind of impact. There are sharp turns around big trees, few turnouts, two waterfall crossings, a mile-plus section of road susceptible to sedimentation of the creek. At the bottom is Westside Elementary School, with over 170 students, some who walk down Felta Creek Road to attend classes. Most students and families use Felta Road, a publicly maintained county road where school traffic is already congested.

No traffic impact or safety studies were completed as part of the timber harvest plan. At the June 15 public meeting, CalFire’s Lukacic asserted that the hauling operation was a civil matter. A certified engineer’s letter questioning the suitability of bridges, numerous concerns about sedimentation of the creek, fire and public safety issues and threats of litigation have all been filed during the public comment period, set to close on June 26.

What could all this mean for the last recognized habitat for wild coho salmon in the entire Russian River watershed? One local timber operator who reviewed the plan predicted: “this is going to be ugly.”

According to one official at the CalFire meeting, agencies were concerned about Ken Bareilles’ record of land abuse: a cleanup and abatement order with the Regional Water Board in 2002, as well as CalFire violations. A March 12, 2012 California Department of Fish and Wildlife press release[1] reported what inspectors saw at a Ken Bareilles-owned Humboldt property:

“… soil stock piled next to or in the stream channels, removal of riparian vegetation and poorly installed stream crossings. DFG then filed a formal complaint against Bareilles and he was convicted.

During a storm in January 2012, the team then returned and witnessed sediment entering streams and flowing downstream toward Redwood Creek during the salmon and trout spawning and rearing season. As the rain continued, video was taken of an estimated 10 cubic yards of sediment becoming saturated and flowing like lava into one of four affected streams on site.”

Bareilles’ THP zoned property also happens to be for sale. This means a buyer or coalition of buyers could potentially prevent logging in this critical watershed.

“There has to be a better way,” says Felta Creek Road resident Dan Imhoff. “We have to protect all the healthy habitats that remain in this County.” Imhoff helped start the organization, Friends of Felta Creek, to mount a community response and conservation outcome to the proposed timber harvest plan.

FOLLOW-UP AND HOW YOU CAN HELP

Good news: The THP has been sent back by the director for major revisions. See the accompanying article on this. However, it may come back with changes that still don’t fix the larger impacts.

Tax exempt donations can be made to Forest Unlimited for the “Friends of Felta Creek.”  This DONATE button designates funds specifically for Friends of Felta Creek:



Contact 707.303.6091 for more information.

[1] “Humboldt County Attorney Convicted of Multiple Land Use Violations,” from CDFW News, March 12, 2012, web edition