A Plan to Log Century-Old Redwoods Could Set a Bad Precedent

Environmentalists argue a California agency approved a 330-acre logging project that could damage sensitive floodplain habitat.
Second-growth redwoods in Del Norte Forest, Del Norte State Park, Humboldt County, California. (Photo: Don Smith/Getty Images)
Jul 15, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

This time, it’s not iconic old-growth redwood groves facing the ax along California’s northern coast, but the trees that are slated for logging are nearly as environmentally important, conservationists contend.

Last week, Cal Fire—the state’s forestry and fire protection agency—approved a controversial timber harvest plan that allows a company to log 100-year-old second-growth redwood trees along a 330-acre stretch of the Gualala River on the Sonoma County coast.

Environmentalists say logging the region’s mixed second-growth redwood and Douglas fir trees—especially stands located so close to the banks of the river—could have cascading effects on the health of the ecosystem and could set a precedent for granting future logging efforts in sensitive habitats statewide.

Now, Friends of Gualala River and Forest Unlimited have threatened a lawsuit, claiming Cal Fire’s approval of the timber harvest plan violates state rules meant to protect forests in critical watersheds.

“This is really the largest logging plan proposed within a floodplain on the North Coast since the state put in new rules specifically to protect this type of habitat,” said Peter Baye, a coastal ecologist with Friends of Gualala River. “Cal Fire has basically granted the plan and given exceptions here that sets a bad precedent moving forward.”

Cal Fire did not respond to a request for comment.

RELATED: Size Does Matter When It Comes to Saving Forests

The logging plan, dubbed “Dogwood,” has been in the works for years but gained momentum in 2015 when the 29,000-acre site that straddles Sonoma and Mendocino counties was sold to Gualala Redwood Timber. The previous landowner had applied for permission to log the area more than a decade ago.

The sale dismayed conservation groups, which had tried but failed to purchase at least part of the property to protect the sensitive floodplain habitat and expand the nearby Gualala Point Regional Park.

“It’s not just about the age of the trees or the size—it’s also about the landscape they are on,” Baye said. “These redwood trees they are targeting aren’t located on hillsides—they are mostly along flatter floodplain terrain, some of the most productive and biodiverse habitat in the forest.”

Baye said the forests help ease floodwaters, and along the Gualala, the thick root systems of century-old redwoods and the shade from their canopies improve water quality for salmon and steelhead by limiting soil erosion. The trees themselves are the preferred habitat for endangered northern spotted owls and provide protection for rare plant species that grow along the forest floor.

In its proposal, Gualala Redwood Timber said it is abiding by the state’s timber harvesting by selectively logging trees rather than clear-cutting. State forestry rules prohibit the logging of the 13 largest trees on each acre and require that a majority of the forest canopy within 150 feet of the river be kept intact.

Gualala Redwood did not respond to a request for comment, but Henry Alden, a spokesperson for the company, told The Press Democrat that the company has met those requirements.

“We and the agencies feel this is an entirely appropriate level of harvest and type of harvest,” Alden said.

Still, Baye says Cal Fire’s move to allow the company to build skid roads in the floodplain to remove trees, as well as to permit water to be pumped from the river for dust suppression on the roads, sends the wrong message.

“Cal Fire is supposed to make exceptions to its environmental rules if it is justified or mitigated for—not just at the convenience of the landowners,” Baye said.

Friends of Gualala River and Forest Unlimited are holding a rally July 16 at Gualala Point Regional Park to protest the project.