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

Just WHAT is the Soquel Demonstration Forest management trying to demonstrate?

October 2010
Soquel Creek Bank FailureThis failure along the bank of Soquel Creek runs for 86 feet. The road could fail as soon as this winter. Despite being awarded a FEMA grant to fix the road, the Demonstration Forest withdrew its repair project because of "scheduling delays." Photo: Jodi Frediani

by Jodi Frediani

The Soquel Demonstration State Forest (SDSF), adjacent to Nisene Marks State Park, was established in 1990 thanks to AB 1965, sponsored by then State Assemblymember, Sam Farr. The 2681-acre forest, previously owned by Pelican Timber Company and slated for extensive logging, became part of the 71,000-acre demonstration state forest system. Soquel Creek bisects the Forest.

AB 1965 clearly identified "watershed protection for local communities" along with "baseline monitoring and studies of the hazards, risks and benefits of forest operations and watershed to urban areas" as the primary purpose of the Forest. The legislative intent was also clear that public education and protection of old growth redwood trees would be key actions at the Forest, while also providing a "resource for the public, environmental groups, elected officials, environmental planners, and the educational community to learn about and evaluate forestry practices and their effects."

Current operations and proposed timber harvest plans for the Forest have not followed through with adequate watershed protection for anadromous fish or the community as required.

A 158-acre timber harvest plan (Rim) was recently approved for the eastern portion of Soquel Demonstration State Forest and a second timber harvest plan (Fern Gulch), originally submitted in 2004, is still under review. A number of problems have surfaced with the Fern Gulch Timber Harvest Plan which seem to indicate that the SDSF management has forgotten the primary purpose of this forest.

The main access road for the Forest and haul road for the proposed timber harvest suffered a significant failure along the bank of Soquel Creek in 2006. The eroded road edge and stream bank currently runs for a distance of 86 feet along the Creek. SDSF was awarded a FEMA grant in 2007 to repair the failure, and a contractor was hired to prepare a preliminary biological assessment. The Ventana only recently learned of the grant and that the Demonstration Forest withdrew its repair project because of "scheduling delays." When we pressed further, we were told the grant "was only for reimbursement funds." That is, the state would have had to pay up front to repair the road and then be reimbursed.

A pre-harvest inspection in late August of this year (the 8th for this planned cut), involved 13 state employees (including four geologists and a hydrologist) plus two County employees discussing whether or not to fix the road as part of the Timber Harvest Plan. Those considering the repair came from Redding, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz. The Soquel Demonstration State Forest Assistant Manager stated that it would take too long to get the necessary permits to fix the road. He has been saying this for months, during which time permits could have been secured. No conclusion was reached during the inspection regarding when the bank would be repaired. All present agreed that the road could fail as soon as this winter. Despite this fact, CAL FIRE and the California Geological Survey are prepared to allow hauling of nearly 600 loaded log trucks along this road. The Timber harvest would not commence until 2011 at the earliest.

Unfortunately, this is only one of several "watershed protection" projects that have been begun and then aborted in the Soquel Demonstration State Forest. A permanent bridge was designed as part of the upcoming Fern Gulch Timber Harvest Plan but has now been eliminated, ostensibly due to state budget problems. A temporary bridge will have to be installed instead. An extensive road to access the harvest area was also designed over a year-long period, but has been significantly scaled back. One experimental segment of the road will require using a roadbed of Styrofoam blocks across an active landslide. The technique is still planned, though controversial.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the California Department of Fish and Game have written a joint letter to the Demonstration Forest manager making it abundantly clear that continued use of the wet-ford crossing through Soquel Creek could kill coho salmon or significantly damage their habitat, both resulting in a "take" under federal law. Furthermore, NMFS has been trying, without success, to get buy-in from the Demonstration Forest to place some large wood installations in Soquel Creek to improve habitat for fish. NMFS will be meeting with the Forest managers in late September to further discuss these large wood projects and offer their design assistance.

In addition to failing to undertake adequate watershed protection projects, the Demonstration Forest managers have not prepared required financial reports. The Sierra Club has been trying unsuccessfully to get copies of any financial reports for SDSF since May of this year.

How to help

The Soquel Demonstration State Forest belongs to the people of California. The Sierra Club is concerned that this asset is not being managed responsibly.

Please contact Senator Joe Simitian, Assemblymember Bill Monning, and U.S. Representative Sam Farr to let them know you want to see financial accountability and restoration of watershed protection as the primary function of our local state forest.

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