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People Power STOPS Forestville Timber Harvest

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People Power STOPS
Forestville Timber Harvest

By David Herr

Most people feel helpless when it comes to impacting the outcome of an event. Yet they DO have influence, and they CAN effect change. What it takes is having enough people to be heard - and solid information to gain respect..

We changed the outcome of a tree removal in my neighborhood by contacting people who had the power to stop the operation before long-term permanent damage occurred. In the process, we learned that laws and systems in place are not enough, and that oversight is essential to protect our environment from ignorance.

Our Back Yard

River Drive is a small neighborhood at Hacienda Bridge in Forestville. What we came to call the “Hacienda Timber Harvest,” without intervention, would have been a redwood clear-cut on two lots going down to the river on both sides of Hacienda Bridge. This brought many in our neighborhood and community together in outrage over what Clear View tree service was doing with a Cal Fire “exemption” permit and little oversight.

How did this happen?

How could a timber harvest occur along the banks of the Russian River, which has been designated critical habitat for three species of salmon? How could this be permitted when multiple agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars on studies alone to save the fish and their habitat?

Both lots were recently purchased by out-of-area owners…people who don’t live here, or intend to live here…and who appear to be ignorant of local environmental protections. Both have applications to raise these original summer cabins along the river using FEMA flood mitigation assistance funds. Both contacted Clear View tree service to remove a few trees they considered a fire hazard, and in their way of intended construction.

Jason Winamaki, owner of Clear View, has operated a tree service  in the area for some time, and recently obtained certification to be a “Licensed Timber Operator” (LTO). He told at least one of the owners that harvesting their redwoods would pay for the tree work they originally wanted.

This could be accomplished by obtaining a “timber harvest permit exemption” from Cal Fire, the agency responsible for monitoring tree removal that involves selling the trees for lumber. CalFire considers this riverfront neighborhood of small lots “Timberland” because of the number of trees in the area. This “grey area” in the law attempts to cover home-owner fire prevention needs on forested land.

Stripped RedwoodsAlarmed Neighbors

When we saw the number of trees stripped of their branches, calls and emails went out to Permit Resource Management Dept. (PRMD),  North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Fish and Game (F&G), and the Gazette for media oversight.

All agency responses were sympathetic to saving the trees on the river, but none had jurisdiction to intervene. F&G said they were limited to oversight when stumps were removed along the river bank that might cause erosion (this was disappointing as F&G had previously cited property owners for cutting trees on the river).

How was it stopped?

Community input, persistence, and response from Kimberly Sone, the Forester at Cal Fire who had permitted the tree removal project by designating it a timber harvest with an exemption for structural fire protection, changed this job.

When I called Cal Fire to get information and express my opinion about what was happening, I learned that Kimberly Sone had received numerous similar calls. When I called Forest Unlimited for help, I found they were already at the sites taking pictures. When I called Vesta of the Gazette, she was soon at my door, and we took more pictures to document what was happening, and sent emails out to more agencies to get their attention.

We needed someone who understood laws to evaluate what we might accomplish, so Vesta contacted Jeff Rebischung of Fine Tree Care to evaluate both sites. Jeff is a very knowledgeable and experienced LTO, and pointed out several violations that were in progress. This gave us the language of the law we needed to gain credibility to our request for intervention. The most important is that there are specific laws pertaining to cutting trees within 150’ of our river, and this timber harvest was violating those laws because many of the tress are in what is called a Watercourse Protection Zone.

On October 22nd I was able to meet Kimberly Sone at the sites. She told me that Jason Winamaki had been told that further removal of trees would be a violation of watercourse practices. Due to community input, she increased her oversight of this timber harvest, and ultimately stopped the harvest within the watercourse protection zone. Additional review of the damage is pending.

The remaining redwoods, stripped and topped in preparation for removal, will regrow limbs, and in time, once again provide shade for our river and fish. However, these trees will need more maintenance as time goes on than if they were never limbed.

Where do we go from here…

Hopefully our river advocacy groups, and a well-informed community that cares about our river, endangered fish and the riparian trees, can motivate our board of supervisors to implement new rules to eliminate the cutting of ecologically necessary trees in the riparian corridor.  At present there are loopholes in protection for riparian trees large enough to drive a logging truck through.

Thanks to community input, this project ended with a partial victory.  It proves to us that we can protect our home, and that agencies can be responsive. We need to pay more attention so that all agencies are on the same page, timber operators are aware of, and respectful of our laws, and that we still have more work to do to protect our watershed. 

Below are the logged and stacked trees waiting to go to a lumber mill. These trees came down, but the tress along the river bank remain to protect the river, fish, and our homes.

Felled Redwoods waiting to go to the lumber yard

* This is article inspired a 2nd on Tree Removal Laws for Your Property
Sonoma County & California Laws
that we ran in the December edition. When I researched that story, I asked Jeff Rebischung (a Gazette advertiser) about the laws on small timber harvests, since he is a Licensed Timber Operator. In talking with Kimberly Sone, the CalFire Division Chief who is responsible for inspecting those jobs (and subsequently stopped them when violations occurred), she told me that Fine Tree Care is regarded as an authority on this subject. Jeff wrote a very detailed version of the article, filled with laws and legal language, which I translated.

Comments:

Dear Vesta,

I am tempted to write a scathing letter to the out of town property and Jason Winamaki of Clear View "Tree Care" for their rip, tear and bust actions surrounding the gorgeous redwood trees in the Hacienda Bridge area. Instead I am taking the high road and thanking Vesta, Fine Tree Care and the neighbors for taking the right action and stopping the removal of these trees. It grieves me to see these skeleton trees by the river and to know that birds, bats, insects and possums have lost their homes. Yes the trees will re grow but under stressful conditions.

The lesson is: if you want to have a home in a sunny area buy or rent away from these majestic trees and everyone please respect this natural fragile environment.

In closing does anyone know who did the same delimbing of the redwood trees close to the Guerneville Library and St Eliizabeth's Catholic Church near Armstrong Woods Road?

Thank you,

Heather Hendrickson

Dear Vesta,

The hazardous fuels harvest exemption is really for use in Douglas fir and pine forest where the risk of wild fire is much greater than in is in redwood bottom land. 

If the intention of the project was to reduce the hazardous fuel load, as is stated in the harvest permit, then removing the tallest, largest and most fire resistant trees would be contrary to the goal.  From the pictures provided, the project looks like a "group selection", that is taking out a grove with a small clear cut to create enough light for stump regeneration.  The new sprouts on the redwood stumps would represent a larger fire hazard and management problem than if the trees had not been taken down....unless of course the stumps are ground out, which would violate the Fish and Game regulations. 

Redwood should really be exempt from the hazardous fuels exemption permit entirely.  Redwood forests by definition exist in areas with summer fog drip.  (It is the non-commercial hardwood species in the redwood understory that represent the hazardous fuel load.)  With redwood's high stumpage value it is too much of a temptation for abuse.  The value of douglas fir and pine is so low right now that if the logs can be sold to the mill, the price paid just covers the cost for transportation.  This is a positive as it removes the temptation to capitalize on neighborhood trees for private gain, but it can make otherwise unfeasible projects cost effective.  In many cases where large hazardous douglas fir trees are taken down due to root rot, the wood isn't valued for lumber and it just gets cut up for firewood.  At least in this situation we don't have to deal with the hipocracy of a permit that gives a green light for wholesale logging. 

There are abundant forested properties in Northern California away from salmon bearing creeks and scenic corordors for those folks who want to manage timberland.  We need more people managing our forests to address the hazardous fuel loads. In my opinion, trees growing in suburban areas should be valued for esthetics, soil stabilization and local climate mitigation for the whole neighborhood.  Unfortunatly, timber harvesting only creates value for the one person who cashes the check and it externalizes all of the negative aspects of the project onto the neighborhood and in this case the tax payers who have been supporting the restoration of the creek.

Matt Banchero

Matthew Banchero's Tree Service

Cont. Lic. 913093

707-921-9217

www.TheTreeHuggingTreeCutter.com

 

thanks for your intelligent reply! I wil add it to COMMENTS on our web site and publish it our December edition.

Aside from stopping this unecessary taking of Redwoods - which, as you state - are not really a fire hazard - we are trying to get agencies who monitor this kind of work - and river restoration people - aligned and in concert with each other. 

I doubt the property owner has the intent of stump regeneration. It will be interestng to see what they do with this project now that the harvest was cut short. Will the landowner maintain it - finish the job responsibly, or cut his losses and bail? ~ Vesta