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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county
Forestry Updates, April 2008

1. Cal Poly NTMP-old growth and too many acres?
2. Holderman NTMP-DFG non-concurs on 1-03NTMP-040SCR
3. New USFWS Red-legged frog guidelines-challenged
4. Bohemian Grove tries end-run with Conservation Easement
5. TPZ rezones move forward
6. New THPs and NTMPs
7. Two fire bills before the state legislature

1. Cal Poly NTMP — old growth and too many acres??

Cal Poly has a 701 acre NTMP under review on their Swanton Pacific Ranch north of Davenport. Looks like it’s moving ahead toward approval, even though a nephew of Al Smith (who donated the land to Cal Poly) has submitted comments outlining a number of concerns, and DFG has expressed some significant concerns.

Turns out that Cal Poly has several old growth stands which are to be harvested under the NTMP. Well, there are at least two, the General Smith Stand the Tranquility Flats Sub-Unit. According to the DFG PHI report, the plan is not clear and there may be additional old growth stands. There are trees greater than 50” dbh in or near the Tranquility-Flats sub-unit along Little Creek. DFG has asked for 1) greater clarification of just how much old growth exists and where, and 2) retention of 18 trees greater than 40” dbh within the 11 acre Tranquility Flats sub unit, where the plan states that there are 9.5 trees per acre in the greater than 38” dbh size class. Apparently Big Creek and Cal Poly are objecting. Unfortunately, DFG did not get to see all of the old growth (nor did the other PHI team members) during the PHI.

DFG also wants additional protections for coho and will hopefully ask that the latest USFWS red-legged frog guidelines be adhered to once they are finalized. (See below for more info).

Did I mention ACREAGE? Oh yes, in perusing the plan I noticed that Cal Poly owns nearly 4000 acres in Santa Cruz County (along Valencia Creek in Aptos and Little Creek in Swanton.) The plan gives a fuzzy accounting of how many acres are in grassland, used for the historic train, set aside for this and that and deems that Cal Poly has only around 1800 acres of timberland. The cutoff for an NTMP landowner is 2500 acres. Well, with that much of a ‘buffer’ why worry? Remember, Big Creek also told us that San Jose Water Company only had 2001 acres of timberland out of their 6000 acre ownership. NAIL did their own flyover and acreage assessment and computed over 2700 acres of timberland for SJWC. CALFIRE finally did their own assessment and also determined that SJWC owned more than the 2500 acre NTMP limit. That plan was declared invalid and tossed out. A few well-placed questions need to be put to CALFIRE and Cal Poly on this one.

2. Holderman NTMP-DFG non-concurs on 1-03NTMP-040SCR

Dale Holderman, RPF and retired Big Creek forester and PR person, has been toying with an NTMP on his own property for the past 5 years. Dale has steadfastly refused to agree to conditions proposed by DFG, but none-the-less, on March 17, 2008, Review Team Chair, Rich Sampson, recommended approval if the concerns of the Review Team Chair are addressed before the close of public comment. DFG then filed a non-concurrence since several of their concerns (addressed in four previous DFG letters) have not been incorporated into the NTMP. Unfortunately, DFG has never (to my recollection) filed an appeal, so their objections have few teeth. Waiting to see what, if anything, will happen next.

A partial list of DFG’s concerns include:

1. That the NTMP describe the existing adverse conditions in Browns Creek and identify appropriate mitigation measures to offset further contributions that may result from proposed operations. These measures should ensure the avoidance of plan related impacts to fine sediment and thermal conditions in Browns Creek.

2. Include a map of the Equipment Exclusion Zones (EEZ) within which the use of heavy equipment shall not occur. EES should be established around all watercourses, springs, mesic areas, swales, and areas of potential instability on the lower slopes of the plan area.

3. Surveys for nesting raptors shall be conducted prior to operations in each year in which operations occur during the breeding season for Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks. Surveys shall be conducted by a biologist with experience in detecting nesting accipiters.

In addition, rare plant surveys shall be conducted prior to harvest operations, the plan shall include language to prohibit the use of annual ryegrass, and the NTMP shall specify a plan for retaining and maintaining snag/nest/den trees.

3. New USFWS Red-legged frog guidelines-challenged

On March 25, 2008 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) came out with a new set of California red-legged frog guidelines (and new guidelines for the San Francisco Garter Snake-someone figured out the snake probably travels through forests to get from one pond to the next). The frog is currently federally listed as threatened and on the state list of species of special concern. This document was modified from a February 1, 2008 version in responses to CALFIRE’s comments on clarity and consistency in terminology.

NOW, however, these guidelines are once again undergoing revision, BECAUSE the timber industry decided they could not live with the new regulations. Discussions are underway in Sacramento. I don’t know if the environmental community has been invited to participate in these talks and I seriously doubt the frogs have been asked if they can live with the proposed changes from industry. I did learn that DFG has met with the Service and provided their comments, which would help clarify the requirements and strengthen them.

Apparently, the Service finally realized that the timber industry was not being held to the same standard as other industries (i.e., developers) and decided to raise the bar.

Here are a few quotes from the March 25 version:

“Using site-specific information and evaluation, CALFIRE may design alternative take avoidance methods on a case-by-case basis. The scenarios below are recommended tools to avoid take, but are not required approaches imposed by the Service.”

“If the THP occurs within Historic Range of CRF (see map), we assume presence of the frog unless Service approved protocol surveys demonstrate no presence.”

Take is not considered likely to occur when presence is know or assumed’ as in the following scenarios:

Scenario II: “Suitable habitat within 2 miles of harvest units or in units, but no harvest activities within 300 feet of suitable habitat.”

Scenario III: Suitable habitat within 2 miles of harvest units or in units and harvest activities planned within 300 feet of suitable habitat during the wet season. No take is estimated only under the following conditions:
i. For Class III watercourse, when dry, maintain a 30-foot no cut buffer, trees felled away from watercourse
ii.For Class II watercourse and intermittent ponds/wetlands that meet the definition of suitable habitat, where water is present, 300 foot no cut buffer,; where dry, 30-foot no cut buffer, no equipment within 75 feet of annual high water mark, trees felled away from suitable habitat.
iii.Class I watercourse and permanent ponds/wetlands that meet the definition of suitable habitat — no cutting and no equipment within 300 feet of this suitable habitat

Scenario IV: Suitable habitat within 2 miles of harvest units or in units, but no harvest activities within 300 feet of suitable habitat during the dry season.”
i.All suitable habitat must maintain a 30-foot no-cut buffer; no equipment within the no-cut buffer; trees felled away from suitable habitat.

In addition, no herbicide use is allowed within 300 feet of suitable habitat except for direct application to stumps, and roads and landings, if constructed, must be at least 300 feet from suitable habitat, and construction must occur in the dry season. Water drafting from suitable habitat (for dust abatement) must be done with a hose placed in a bucket in a deep pool. The bucket must be covered by < 1 inch mesh, and the mouth of the hose must be covered by 1/4 inch mesh.

4. Bohemian Grove tries end-run with Conservation Easement

If you’ve been following these Updates, you will remember that the Bohemian Club (the male movers and shakers of this country) have an NTMP in the CALFIRE pipeline on their Grove retreat property along the Russian River. The Club has logged the property for many years under the supervision of RPF Ed Tunheim. However, greed seems to have gotten in the way and the Club decided to submit an NTMP and seriously increase the cut. All in the name of fire prevention. And we know how flammable redwood trees are. Where have we heard this mantra before?

At any rate, it appears that the Club owns more than the 2500 acre timberland limit for NTMP landowners. NAIL (stopped the SWJC NTMP on acreage) folks and yours truly have been working with the Boho Grove NTMP opposition folks and advising them on the acreage issue. Apparently comments submitted into the plan have given the Bohos pause. They have contacted their friends at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation about a conservation easement on 160 acres of Grove redwood forest. This would ostensibly make the land unavailable for harvest and, according to some, no-longer meeting the statute definition of timberland. This would allow the Club to proceed with the NTMP.

The Sierra Club, including the Redwood Chapter and Carl Pope, has written letters to the Elk Foundation making it clear that the easement would be on acreage already protected by the Club from logging (an old growth stand and cabins) and would simply allow for harvesting of the remainder under the poorly constructed NTMP. The Elk folks don’t seem to think that is a problem for them.

However, the lawyer for the NTMP opposition, Paul Carroll, recently sent the Elk Foundation a letter claiming that the conservation easement as proposed would be in violation of California State Law.

Check out some of the media coverage:

And, if you feel so inclined, call the Elk Foundation and let them know this is an inappropriate use of their funds, the NTMP improperly claims it will reduce fire hazard, the easement will not protect more land, but rather will allow for an overharvest of more than 2000 acres of prime redwood forest.

From NAIL:

The easy step you can take would be to contact the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and express yourself regarding their involvement in such a dishonest tactic, citing the backlash it will cause against their organization and the fact that by doing so they are killing trees, not saving them. With enough public outcry against this shady tactic, it could be stopped. Let the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation hear the following from you:

1) By accepting this easement they are risking the trees not saving them. Current fire science has proven that cutting down the big trees in a forest poses a greater chance of large scale forest fire. If the foundation accepts this easement they are allowing that kind of logging to go on and that kind of fire risk to occur.

2) Do they want to be known as a foundation that allowed a private men's club to get around proper environmental impact studies just to make money off of trees? This will cause The Elk Foundation a great deal of negative publicity and affect future donorship.

Toll-free: 1(800) CALL ELK (225-5355)

5. TPZ rezones move forward

I attended the March 12 Planning Commission hearing (along with a bunch of upset Los Gatos/Summit area neighbors) on a batch (33) of TP parcel rezone applications on a fast track for approval. Santa Cruz County has decided that they have little authority to deny such applications if they meet minimum criteria set by the State. Late last year when the Supes raised the minimum parcel size from 5 to 40 acres, they also included a grace/amnesty period to allow for rezones of parcels less than 40 acres. All small landowners were notified by the county, and we believe the timber industry sent out their own solicitation letters. Around 90 applications have been received by the county and deemed complete by the December 31, 2007 deadline.

Unfortunately, dozens of neighbors to these parcels are now up in arms (where were they when the Supes were debating the minimum parcel size issue during the past ten years???). Well, some were in the Los Gatos portion of Santa Cruz County and focused on Santa Clara County business and not that of Santa Cruz. Now their only recourse will be to actively participate in the review of any timber harvest plans that are submitted on these newly rezoned parcels.

HOWEVER, there was one bright spot at the March hearing. I testified that I was appalled that planning staff was not even using its own GIS database and reviewing aerial photos to ascertain that the parcels to be rezoned were indeed forested. Even Planning Commissioners Rachel Dann and Renee Shepherd were surprised since Planning Staff provides aerials to the Commissioners of all building applications that come before the Commission. So, the Commissioners voted to direct staff to review the aerial photos in the county database before simply accepting the forester’s declaration that the property conforms to the stocking standard.

Unfortunately, the Commission did not vote on my second recommendation that the county use the Timber Productivity Act definition of parcel (that portion of land which is forested) for rezoning purposes. Currently the county is rezoning whole assessor parcels whether they are fully forested or not. Only a small area around existing homes is excluded. What this means is that the county is giving away precious property tax dollars on acreage that will never be harvested, and, therefore, from which the county will never recoup a single dollar of timber yield tax.

6. New THPs and NTMPs

-A problematic 60+ acre THP was submitted by RPF Gary Paul along Bear Creek, but was returned and has not resurfaced. This plan has an existing road in the stream, or the stream is in the road. In either case, it will be part of the access road for the timber, though I believe the plan proposes realigning the instream portion of the road. Good thinking. Another 1/2 - 1 mile of new ‘temporary’ road is proposed to be constructed up onto the ridgetop. That is, a section of road is proposed to be created simply to get out the timber. What makes anyone think the abandoned road will be maintained any better than the instream segment is anybody’s guess. Will wait to see if the plan gets re-submitted.

In response to my verbal concerns about this plan, Rich Sampson suggested that the only alternative would be helicopter yarding, but that after the St. Francis investigation, Columbia Helicopters had decided they would no longer do helicopter yarding in Santa Cruz County. However, another source shared with me that Columbia had been found to do similarly poor quality work (trees cross-felled over streams, and over-cutting in the riparian corridor on several other plans elsewhere in California. Maybe they won’t be doing anymore helicopter logging work in our fair state. Instead they will focus on moving cooling units into high-rise buildings.

-Retree Properties has submitted a plan to harvest on four of their parcels (APNs 80-121-17, 19, 21 and 63-021-35) in the San Vicente Creek Watershed in Bonny Doon. The 60 acre plan was accepted for filing on April 3, 2008 as THP 1-08-045SCR. From a cursory review, it looks fairly mild with no winter operations proposed and a 30' no-cut riparian buffer along the Class II stream. Also, the plan intends to keep stump height below 10". Looks to me like a 'beauty' cut before development. Says it will generate 100 log loads per year and will haul out onto Pine Flat and Bonny Doon Road.

-The City of Watsonville has finally ┼┤Łnoticed’ their Grizzly Flat NTMP. It has not yet been submitted to CALFIRE, at least it has not shown up on the CALFIRE website yet. Should be an interesting one. I believe the RPF is Gary Paul.

7. Two fire bills before the state legislature

Land Use/Fire Protection. SB 1500 (Kehoe) would allow the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to require local governments to guarantee adequate structural fire protection before approving development in high-fire-hazard State Responsibility Areas.

Fire Protection. SB 1617 (Kehoe) would establish a fair and equitable new fee on homes in State Responsibility Areas to fund some of the costs of their fire protection. The fee would be tiered to give incentives for reducing fire risks, and would also fund proactive prevention activities.

Jodi Frediani
Central Coast Forest Watch
ph/fax 831-426-1697

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