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Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county
Redwood Forest Logging Plan Causes Uproar in Boulder Creek
by Kevin Collins
Roughly a year ago the Santa Cruz County staff responsibility for Timber Harvest Plan Review was moved from the County Department of Environmental Health to the Planning Department.
Unfortunately all of the institutional memory and knowledge about this crucial County responsibility has been lost from the Planning Department through retirements and staff resignations. It has been many years since the Planning Department was involved in logging permit review.
Fully 25% of the entire land area of Santa Cruz County is zoned for Timber Production. This includes an area from the ocean to the Santa Clara County line totaling 111 square miles of mountain terrain. The most valuable and sought after lumber is of course from redwood trees. But Douglas fir are also cut here and it is common for timber logging to be followed on the same parcel by the cutting and sale of hardwood trees, primarily for firewood sales.
During the peak of logging activity in Santa Cruz County in the 1990s, roughly 3000 acres a year were being logged annually. Logging here is, by state law, limited to "selection." The rules allow for 60% of all conifer trees 18 inches in diameter and larger to be felled every 14 years. There is also a 10 year "re-entry" rule. A 50% limit applies to the cutting of conifer trees from 12 to 18 inches in diameter. Other rules apply to streamside areas. There is no clear limit on the felling of hardwood trees such as oak and madrone.
Since the 2008 recession the rate of timber logging fell along with the housing market. But new home building and remodeling are increasing nationally, and that 3000 acres a year figure could soon be equaled or surpassed.
Santa Cruz County has a long history of close involvement with the regulation of logging. In 2006 the County prevailed at the California Supreme Court in a case in which Big Creek Lumber sued the County in an attempt to prevent the County from changing its zoning code to separate timber harvests from residential neighborhoods. This was a precedent setting case for California. These zoning changes reduced the number of disputes between logging operators and rural homeowners. Nevertheless there continue to be disputes between logging landowners and rural residential neighborhoods. These disputes are often about road safety and damage to public and private roads, noise complaints, harm to wildlife, the disruption of rural peace and quiet, and harm to water quality from logging-accelerated soil erosion rates.
Since the 1970s this County has had highly experienced professionals on staff to participate in the California Department of Forestry (CalFire / CDF) Timber Harvest Review Team logging permit process. Effective County involvement is crucial. Only the County takes direct responsibility for protecting the interests of rural residents. And the County can address any issue such as the protection of wildlife and water resources. The Forest Practice Rules and CA Forest Practices Act are complex and contain narrow time limits during which an aspect of a proposed logging plan can be challenged by the County. This County needs a staff position dedicated to this function, as it has always had in the past. At the present time this job is not fully staffed and the person now responsible for it, has never done this job before.
A recent uproar from homeowners in the Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club subdivision demonstrates the present deficiency in Santa Cruz County's ability to handle this job effectively.
Residents of this subdivision were not informed about planned logging until days before public comment on the logging permit was to conclude. The logging plan permit (THP) described the intended use of their narrow, winding and privately maintained residential streets. These streets were to be the haul route for the 80,000 lb. log trucks. The County did not address this issue with CDF during the legally mandated time period to do so, nor did the County appear to have taken any steps to properly inform this neighborhood.
Additionally one of the parcels to be logged is a notorious junk-hoarding site that has been shown on the A&E Cable Channel Show "Hoarders." This parcel has been the subject of an unresolved County clean-up order that has dragged out, unresolved, for over 10 years. Reports in the local news described containers of unmarked fluids and other pollution sources on this land. This debris includes many vehicles, storage containers and even aircraft. This parcel is still included for logging in a now approved THP permit. The neglect to connect the dots between this junk strewn and red-tagged parcel and the logging plan was a remarkable oversight.
Rare and endangered wildlife are seldom effectively protected from harm in logging permits. This Boulder Creek THP raised the issue of a newly listed rare bat called the Townsend's big eared bat. CDF and CA Fish and Wildlife accepted a one-page letter from a supposed "expert" as to how to protect this rare animal from harm. The County had nothing whatsoever to say about this inadequate review.
When the County does not perform its role effectively in Timber Review, forests and wildlife are at risk, rural residents have their rights abused and disputes with timber companies increase. The recent Boulder Creek events demonstrate this. This THP was quietly changed out of the public eye when two of the original five landowners dropped out of the THP. When this happened, the haul road was changed to another route. However this kind of solution is unusual and it cannot replace the effective involvement of property trained and qualified County staff.
There are forest conservation experts associated with the Ventana and the Loma Prieta Chapters of the Sierra Club. If you find yourself faced with a logging plan that you consider to be a threat to yourself or to our forests, you can contact us for information and assistance at:
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