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"OVER 1,000 ACRES OF LOGGING PROPOSED FOR ELK CREEK"
• alarming new legal tactic by Jared Carter, representing the Gap investors •
• the final destruction of a Coho Salmon fishery •
- from the Mendocino County Environmentalist, July/August 1998

Mendocino Redwood Company (the Gap investors in Louisiana Pacific lands) and Redwood Empire (the Cloverdale mill) are together proposing over a thousand acres of logging surrounding a tiny population of extremely endangered Coho Salmon. One outcome of this naked assault on Elk Creek will likely be the extinction of the Elk Creek Coho Salmon fishery.

Meanwhile, attorney Jared Carter, on behalf of the Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) and the Gap investors--who have purchased L-P forest lands in Mendocino County--has outdone himself on the matter of devious legal tactics in defense of his clients' right to cut trees and destroy fisheries. At issue is THP 1-97-445 MEN, in Elk Creek, a 606 acre logging plan, including 418 acres of clearcutting and 6.7 miles of road construction, directly upstream from the imperiled salmon fishery. THP 445 is part of the thousand-plus acres of proposed logging.

Carter’s new tactic is to have the California Department of Forestry re-circulate a timber harvest plan (THP 445) that is already in litigation, thus undermining the jurisdiction of the court in public interest lawsuits, and sucking dry the resources of public interest groups who provide a watchdog function over CDF.

The Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance (RCWA) filed suit on four Louisiana Pacific timber harvest plans (THPs) on April 1, just before the Mendocino Redwood Company and the Gap investors purchased L-P's 200,000 acres of cutover forest land. (Escrow closed on July 1). The RCWA lawsuit includes THP 445 in Elk Creek. RCWA recently filed and served its trial brief on this case and was expecting to go to court in late August. Then, on August 1, five months after THP 445 was approved by CDF, and four months after the lawsuit was filed, with the briefing schedule completed, and with RCWA knee-deep in attorney's fees, the Mendocino Redwood Company and the California Department of Forestry suddenly "withdrew" CDF's approval of THP 445 and began re-circulating the same THP 445 with a new public comment deadline of August 28. MRC and CDF did not consult the court, nor the petitioners (RCWA), about this unprecedented and illegal procedure.

Both Jared Carter, on behalf of MRC, and the Assistant Attorney General, on behalf of CDF, failed to answer any of RCWA’s causes of action on THP 445, in their reply briefs. They merely noted their unilateral decision to re-circulate the same THP.

RCWA is now in the bizarre position of having to comment on a THP that it has already filed suit on.

THP 445 has thus become a "moving target." If Carter is successful in this maneuver, public interest groups will now have to endure an endless loop of THP review, public comment and litigation. Nothing will ever get resolved. No illegal action of CDF will ever come before the courts. Illegal approvals of THPs will have no consequences.

Of course, the timber industry--and certainly the Gap investment group--is better equipped to survive endless loops of litigation. Small public interest groups like RCWA will fall by the wayside. Public review of timber harvest plans will cease. Ninety-nine percent of the logging plans that are approved by CDF receive no public scrutiny anyway, because of the impossible public comment deadlines and the difficulty of obtaining documents. (CDF often files important THP documents at the last minute.) Only the very worst and most illegal plans ever make it to court.

Among the many illegalities in THP 445, L-P and CDF withheld L-P's fish distribution data for Elk Creek until after THP 445 was approved, even though the public repeatedly asked for this information. L-P furthermore claimed that there were no fish in the 2-3 mile stream system that will be impacted by THP 445. When the L-P fish data came to light, after THP 445 was approved, it showed that there was one, small Coho Salmon population (ten or fewer fish) located directly downstream from THP 445. These were the only Coho Salmon found in the entire Elk Creek drainage.

The Coho Salmon is federally listed fish that is in extreme danger of extinction on the Mendocino coast. One of the threats to the Coho Salmon is the damage to fish habitat caused by logging operations.

At issue, of course, in THP 445, is the stream protection zone required for fish-bearing streams, which reduces the number of trees that can be cut. With no fish, they can cut more trees. Further on in this story, some local Elk fisherkids--curious about the reports of no fish in Elk Creek--went up to Elk Creek and caught and released numerous Steelhead a half a mile above where L-P said there were no fish. (These non-existent fish can be viewed at www.elksoft.com/gwa/fish.)

Also, the National Marine Fisheries Service became involved, and sent a very strong letter to CDF on April 7, a week after RCWA filed suit. The NMFS letter stated that, "Allowing the THP [445] to proceed, even with some additional protection measures, may pose a serious threat to survival of coho salmon in Elk Creek due to cumulative effects to salmonid habitat."

More than a month after the RCWA lawsuit was filed, L-P re-classified a small portion of the stream up to the corner of the THP, but not including any of the logging area. This was accomplished with a minor amendment (no public comment). That is the only change in the THP 445 that CDF is re-circulating. It is otherwise identical to the first THP 445. The four causes of action in the RCWA lawsuit–which include several other important issues–are nowhere addressed.

If Carter and CDF are successful with this illegal maneuver of re-circulating a THP that is in litigation, the timber industry will have effectively cut off the public's access to legal relief on the worst of CDF's logging plan approvals. The public has no other recourse on illegal logging plans except the court system. With no legal relief possible on public interest issues, it will be carte blanche for the timber harvest industry. They will be free to file any sort of logging plan they wish, oblivious of the public interest, and with the public having no way to stop even the worst of the plans.

This is, in fact, what we see happening already: the coast Redwood forest and its dying fishery are fair game; anything goes.


A Thousand Acres of Logging for Elk Creek

Meanwhile, a timber owner named Roger Burch, on behalf of Redwood Empire (the Cloverdale mill), has proposed a second timber harvest plan for Elk Creek, just downstream from the Gap investors' 606-acre plan, for another 402 acres of logging, including logging in the stream zones of two Class I fish-bearing streams (THP 1-98-266 MEN).

The total is over one thousand acres of heavy-duty logging surrounding the only Coho Salmon known to exist in Elk Creek.

If there were a Devil in some netherworld conspiring to deliberately extinguish the life of Elk Creek, he could not have devised a better plan that this: Over 1,000 acres of high-impact logging all around a salmon fishery that is on the verge of extinction.

This 402 acre logging plan (THP 1-98-266 MEN) of Roger Burch/Redwood Empire is located directly downstream from THP 445, with the tiny and vulnerable Coho Salmon population located right between them. Burch's plan contains 24 mapped slides, 9 road failures, 23 skid trails that involve exceptions to the rules, and it proposes 16 stream crossings. No special protections are proposed for the fishery. Logging is proposed for all of the stream zones.

Two thirds of this plan is "selection" logging, and about one third is clearcut-type methods such as "rehabilitation." The total potential impact of this logging plan, along with the 15 units of clearcutting and the 6.7 miles of road construction in THP 445, is a bit mind-boggling.

A likely outcome will be the extinction of the Elk Creek Coho Salmon fishery. Other likely outcomes are serious harm to, and possible extinction of, the Steelhead fishery, serious reduction of Elk Creek's meager portion of wildlife habitat (big trees), and a dramatic increase in the production of fine sediment in Elk Creek (a future of even muddier water). The South Fork of Elk Creek is already choked with sediment after years of abusive logging by L-P and others. Even CDF observed the high sediment load in its reports on THP 445. THP 266 certainly will add significantly to that impairment.

There is no apparent connection between these two purchasers of L-P lands--the Gap investors and Roger Burch/Redwood Empire--but they are operating in much the same way. They are cleaning up after L-P, finding every last old growth tree--whatever is left--from L-P's decades of "liquidation logging."

THP 266 contains some of the last significant Redwood forest in Elk Creek. THP 445 has small pockets of old growth and single old trees, a mixture of other age classes, lots of tanoak in some areas, and totally trashed areas of dead standing tanoak, killed with herbicides.


The Fate of the Coast Redwood Forest: "one green tree per acre"

Roger Burch is embroiled in another logging plan controversy. Burch filed a logging plan on overcut L-P lands in Guerneville (Sonoma County) that includes the famous Clar Tree, a 1,000 year old Legacy Redwood tree, 336 feet in height, that neighbors protected by public protest in 1985, when L-P wanted to cut it down.

Ancient trees such as this are extremely rare in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. It could well be the only one of its kind in private hands. The thousand year old Clar Tree was not mentioned in the timber harvest plan--a glaring omission--and although it is not marked for logging, the Forest Practice Rules allow timber operators to log unmarked trees, without notice to anyone, by "arrowing" (placing a arrow of sticks or stones) to substitute other "leave" trees--trees that will not be logged--which, in this case, might be several trees of lesser value than the Clar Tree. Neighbors of the Clar Tree in Guerneville could wake one morning and find the Clar Tree down, even though it appeared to be protected from logging, and this would not be a rules violation.

The same thing occurred recently in Mendocino County, in Greenwood Creek (adjacent to Elk Creek on the south coast), in May, when the Gap investors were in the process of purchasing L-P lands. L-P cut down a 230 year old unmarked Redwood tree in Greenwood Creek, while the judges in the RCWA's court case dithered for twelve days over an emergency stay request to stop the logging.

Like Elk Creek, adjacent Greenwood Creek has almost no old growth left, and both watersheds have a serious lack of true Redwood forest. According to statistics contained in L-P’s proposed "Sustained Yield" Plan, in the "Wildlife Habitat Relationships" tables, true Redwood forest (forest with 75% or better component of Redwood) is present on only 8% of the L-P acreage in Greenwood Creek, with similar conditions in Elk Creek.

These are the Redwood forests that re-built San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. These are the watersheds described in local history books as having once contained so many Coho Salmon that local people scooped up salmon by the wheelbarrow to take home to the smoke house for their winter food supply.

CDF’s wildlife biologist Brad Valentine made a recommendation for THP 445 in Elk Creek. He said they should leave "one green tree per acre" in the clearcutting areas for wildlife purposes. The L-P forester refused this mitigation, and CDF agreed to that refusal.

This is the plan that the Gap investors are defending tooth and nail in court. L-P’s Harry Merlo was at least honest about it--he who said, "I want it all...now." With Mendocino Redwood Company, we get puff pieces in the local newspapers about MRC’s environmental concerns–and yet they won’t even leave one green tree per acre in this battered watershed.


the Excuse of Clearcutting Tanoaks

The Gap investors are using old L-P logging plans in which L-P found small pockets of old growth and second growth associated with tanoak forests, and are using the excuse of "getting rid of the tanoak" to take the last lucrative Redwood and Douglas fir.

A good example of this is THP 1-97-352 MEN, in Greenwood Creek, a 96-acre clearcut that is part of the Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance lawsuit. Portions of the THP 352 area (which is located in the Big Tree Creek tributary, near the top of Cliff Ridge) are in 18 year old tanoak. Eighteen years ago, Masonite did an "overstory removal" in this area of Greenwood Creek. That old THP document contains statements by Masonite foresters and by CDF's Ross Johnson about Masonite’s intention to replant, to convert the area back to conifer, and how the logging will "enhance the area." Today those sections of THP 352 are full of young tanoak forest, and L-P/the Gap is justifying the current clearcutting as yet another effort to get rid of the tanoak and restore the conifers. Meanwhile, in the upper sections of the plan are 100 to 150 year old trees that are also being clearcut.

The same justification is used in areas of THP 445, the Elk Creek clearcut. Removal of the tanoak is being used as an excuse for clearcutting the last pockets of decent-sized Redwoods and Douglas fir.

L-P's purpose--which is now the purpose of the Gap investors--is to take as many Redwood and Douglas fir as possible--in the stream zones by down-classing the stream, in the clearcutting areas by wiping everything out--not even leaving one green tree--and in the "selection" areas by high-grading (taking all the big trees).

This is "liquidation logging." There is no other way to describe it. It is exactly the same thing that L-P was doing, only it is worse to be doing it now, because there isn’t much left, and the resources that L-P damaged–the wildlife, the fish, the water–are heading for ecological collapse.


An Appeal to the Public: A petition is circulating

Public pressure on the California Department of Forestry and on the Gap investors and their Mendocino Redwood Company is critically needed in order to save the Elk Creek fishery. The Guardians of Elk Creek Old Growth (GECOG) and friends of that group have organized a Petition, which is available on the internet and in hardcopy. You can "sign" the Petition at www.elksoft.com/petition. You can also print copies of this Petition off that web site, gather additional signatures and send it to the Fisher family (founders of the Gap, investors in the L-P forest lands) and to CDF.

Now is your chance to directly save a Coho Salmon fishery. L-P has been overlogging Elk Creek for years. The Gap investors and their Mendocino Redwood Company, and Roger Burch/Redwood Empire, are now preparing to utterly destroy it. This thousand-plus acres of logging could begin in the next two to three weeks. The matter is extremely urgent.

The Petition asks the Fisher family to stop this madness and to place all of these battered L-P forest lands into a conservation land trust. The Petition also asks CDF and other agencies to stop several of the worst MRC logging plans, including THP 1-97-445, and the Roger Burch/Redwood Empire plan, THP 1-98-266.

The Petition to CDF also requests denial of two other bad logging plans--one in the Albion River and one in the Navarro River, both Gap investor logging plans, which are in process at CDF.

The two Enchanted Meadow plans from 1989 in the Albion River (THPs 1-89-100 and 1-89-145), and the 1997 clearcutting plan proposed for Greenwood Creek (THP 1-97-352)–both now owned by the Gap investors--are still under injunction in the Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance lawsuit, and may go to trial in the next few weeks.

 

Public comment deadlines:

THP 1-97-445 MEN: September 11

THP 1-97-445 MEN - artificial deadline set by CDF to re-circulate the same THP that is in litigation. If RCWA loses its preliminary motions on this plan, or loses at trial, this will be the ONLY opportunity of the public to demand that CDF deny this horrendous clearcut. This is an old L-P plan that the Gap investors have adopted as their own. 418 acres of clearcutting and 188 acres of "selection" will devastate Elk Creek wildlife habitat. L-P wouldn't even agree to CDF recommendation to leave "one green tree" per acre for wildlife. 6.7 miles of road construction. Elk Creek already choked with sediment; even CDF says so. An unbelievably bad plan.

THP 1-98-266 MEN: September 2

THP 1-98-266 MEN - 402 acres of high-impact logging, with logging in the stream zones, that will directly affect the ONLY Coho Salmon known to exist in Elk Creek. Together with THP 445, over one thousand acres of logging that will kill the fishery forever. 24 known slides, 9 road failures, 16 stream crossings. A high-grading plan to take the last big trees, with serious potential impacts on wildlife, including five spotted owl sites in the area. About a third of the plan will be logged with clearcutting-type methods. Roger Burch/Redwood Empire (Cloverdale mill).

By Mary Pjerrou

 

Letters of public comment should be sent to:
California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, attn. Forest Practice
135 Ridgway/P.O. Box 670
Santa Rosa, CA 95402
fax (707) 576-2608, tel. (707) 576-2959.

Letters to the Fisher family about their L-P forest land investment should go to:
The Fisher family c/o Bob Fisher, Gap, Inc.
900 Cherry Ave.
San Bruno, CA 94066.

To donate critically needed legal funds, write to:
Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance
P.O. Box 90
Elk, CA 95432.

Donations are tax deductible.

 

______________________________________________

MENDOCINO COUNTRY ENVIRONMENTALIST

Subscription to print version: $15 per year

RICHARD JOHNSON, MENDOCINO COUNTRY Publications,

Green Party of Mendocino County, Alliance for Human Rights,

P.O. Box 533, Talmage, CA 95481 * (707) 459-5490 ext 501 fax 468-1009.

Entertainment calendar information: www.pacific.net/~mce



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