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GUEST OPINION: Bohemian Grove is as unique as Armstrong Woods

  • 4/3/2009: Dan Kerbein [Close to Home column; Member of Sierra Club Sonoma Group executive committee.]

Let's start this discussion with a question: If someone proposed a commercial logging plan to remove a million board feet a year from Armstrong Woods, we'd be up in arms, wouldn't we?

The Bohemian Club is private. The public isn't allowed into it, so its 2,700-acre property is not all that well known. But the Bohemian Grove represents one of the most remarkable stands of old growth and late succession redwood and fir forest in Sonoma County. The entire watersheds of two Russian River tributaries are under the ownership of the club, with opportunities for salmon fishery restoration and habitat protection for other endangered species. It is too precious and unique a piece of property to be reduced to a logging tract.

That's why the Sierra Club and the Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club have filed a petition in Sonoma County Superior Court asking that Cal Fire's Dec. 29 approval of the Bohemian Club's Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan be rescinded.

At issue for us is the very nature and wording of the document. The proposed management plan gives the go-ahead for commercial-scale logging in the grove, in perpetuity, with no specific written protection for identified old-growth redwood and Douglas fir stands.

An adequate inventory and map of old-growth stands has not been presented, and, beyond vague promises, there is no provision for protection without it.

That's not even the whole matter. Our principal legal issue is that Cal Fire has approved a management plan that in its current iteration fails to meet the requirements of the law. It fails to offer less damaging and more feasible alternative plans. It sets a false baseline for measuring additional impacts on greenhouse gas protections from new large-scale logging. Then it fails to estimate the project's greenhouse gas emissions.

During its first 20 years, the project shows a decline in carbon stocking, hindering the state's 2020 goal and Sonoma County's 2015 goal. It hinders rather than helps achieve the goal of salmon restoration in the lower Russian River and does not look at cumulative impacts, or the impacts of combined operations on the environment in the grove, or the Russian River watershed as a whole.

Scientists have strongly criticized the Bohemian Club's assertions that redwood groves are prone to crown fires. Most experts argue that you reduce fire danger by removing tan oak, ceanothus and other low-lying species. But when you thin out and open the redwood forest canopy to sunlight, you simply encourage more low-lying, fire-prone growth.

The Bohemian Club, if it chose to, could take the initiative and reap great benefit from working with watershed and fishery restoration groups, protecting the uniqueness of the grove and the life in its streams. That would put the Bohemian Club in a position of looking constructive and progressive rather than, as is now the case, looking like a greedy absentee landowner with very little concern for the outside world.

That's up to the Bohemian Club. Meanwhile, our interest is in keeping any sort of forestry management on that distinct and unique property at a sustainable level. We live here. We care about our local streams and protection of the forests in Sonoma County. Now that the Cal Fire has approved an unsustainable and improper timber management plan, our first order of business has been to petition the court to rescind it. That is the step we've taken.


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