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Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county

Grizzly Flat back on the chopping block

August 2009

by Betsy Herbert, Ph.D.

The City of Watsonville has submitted a second logging plan for Grizzly Flat, a 200-acre forested property at the source of Watsonville’s highest quality drinking water. A sizable wetland on that property serves as a natural filtration system for Corralitos Creek, which flows directly through Grizzly Flat, upstream of the City’s water treatment plant. Steelhead and red-legged frogs inhabit the area.

Timber harvest, clear cutting in particular, removes more carbon from the forest than any other disturbance (including fire). The result is that harvesting forests generally reduces carbon stores and results in a net release of carbon to the atmosphere.
Mark E. Harmon
Richardson Chair and
Professor of Forest Science at Oregon State University.

The City’s rationale is that they need the money. The logging plan is now being reviewed by CalFire. Despite the City’s attempt to keep this logging plan low profile, it is again drawing criticism.

Many Ventana readers will recall the city of Watsonville’s controversial logging of Grizzly Flat in the mid-1990s, which drew a flurry of media attention. Citizens who wanted to protect old redwood trees and drinking water were pitted against City officials, who saw Grizzly Flat as a cash cow for their dwindling general fund.

Despite a prolonged legal battle, the City eventually had its way and logged Grizzly Flat in 1996.

In 1994, the Sierra Club, Watsonville Wetlands Watch, and Citizens for Responsible Forest Management all attempted to dissuade the City of Watsonville from logging the watershed. Yet, the city was determined to log Grizzly Flat. City officials steadfastly insisted that the logging would not harm water quality, despite the fact that Watsonville Water Department staff had opposed, in writing, other logging plans on private land upstream of Grizzly Flat, because of impacts to water quality.

Without ever having a public discussion about how to manage this public treasure, the city water department hired a forester to prepare a timber harvest plan, which it submitted to California Department of Forestry (CDF) in 1994 for review.

The city’s 1994 Timber Harvest Plan described Grizzly Flat as “late successional,”a term for a forest with many big, old redwoods providing good habitat value for wildlife species. State logging regulations require that a forester conduct a study of “late successional” forests when they are proposed for cut, to assess the impacts on habitat. However, the City requested an exception to this rule on the grounds that the Grizzly Flat forest would still meet the definition “late successional” forest after it was cut, so that the study would not be necessary. CDF agreed with this rationale, and granted the City the exception.

As part of their unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the logging, Citizens for Responsible Forest Management challenged the state’s decision to grant the City the exception to this rule.

Now, fast-forward to the present (2008) logging plan. It states that there are no “late successional forest” stands proposed for cut. Instead, it describes the entire area proposed for cut as “young-growth forest.”

The 2008 logging plan further states, “Because the forest on the project area is managed using light-touch selection silviculture, conditions on the project area have not changed since the last timber harvest in the mid-1990s . . . except that tree overstory canopy cover has increased slightly.”

The question remaining is, “What happened to the late successional forest?” Is it still there, but simply not identified by the 2008 logging plan? Or, was it obliterated by the 1994 logging?

If there are indeed late successional forest stands remaining on Grizzly Flat, they need to be identified and described in the 2008 logging plan, as required by the rules. If there are no late successional forest stands remaining, then apparently, the City of Watsonville over-cut the property in 1996, and is in violation of the rules.

Some things have changed since Grizzly Flat was logged in 1996: The 2008 Summit Fire raged through the heavily logged Corralitos Creek watershed, including parts of Grizzly Flat; Corralitos Creek is part of a larger watershed that is now listed as impaired for sediment, under the Clean Water Act; large redwood trees are now acknowledged as invaluable stores of carbon; CDF is now known as CalFire.

Other things have not changed: The City continues to view Grizzly Flat as a cash cow; the city’s general fund is still strapped; and the City fails to recognize that the long-term value of the standing trees far exceeds the cash value of the timber.

How to help

If you live in the City of Watsonville, contact your City Council members and oppose the proposed logging. Urge them to explore alternatives that will save the trees and protect water quality. Standing trees are critical to protect clean drinking water for the City of Watsonville.

If you live anywhere else in Santa Cruz County, contact your County Supervisor and request that the county appeal the Grizzly Flat Timber Plan (NTMP 1-08 NTMP-010-SCR) as soon as it is approved by Calfire.

A former director of citizens for responsible forest management, Dr. Herbert led the initial effort to save Grizzly Flat in the 1990s. She is employed by a public water district, and her area of expertise is forest management by public water utilities.

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