A ballot measure aimed at halting the controversial timber harvest practice of poisoning unwanted trees and then leaving them to die and decompose is among three initiatives Mendocino County voters will decide in the June 7 election.
If approved, Measure V would create a county ordinance declaring trees that are killed and left standing for more than 90 days to be a nuisance and fire danger.
Companies conducting such operations would be liable for any damage the practice causes to structures, water sources and telecommunication lines within 1,000 meters of the trees. The ordinance does not state who determines liability.
The ballot measure’s proponents, led by local fire district officials, say the current practice increases the risk and intensity of wildfires, endangering both rural residents and firefighters. They claim the timber industry has left millions of trees standing dead across tens of thousands of acres.
“Measure V protects our residents from indefensible forests,” said Albion-Little River Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ted Williams, who is at the forefront of the ballot effort.
Opponents of the measure include Mendocino Redwood Company, whose forest practices — on land it owns — triggered an outcry from area residents and fire officials alarmed by the massive number of dead trees in the area. Williams estimates 1.5 million trees are being killed annually in Mendocino County forests through the practice, dubbed “hack-and-squirt” for the way the herbicide is applied.
The company did not have an estimate for the number of trees killed annually. But John Andersen, director of forest policy for Mendocino Redwood and its sister company, Humboldt Redwood Co., argued the practice does not significantly increase fire risks and called the proposed ordinance excessive and unnecessary.
He said the practice of removing hardwood trees through poisoning is crucial to restoring forests damaged by past practices — including massive overcutting. Because hardwoods grow quickly, they can prevent sunlight and other resources from reaching conifer trees, whose timber is prized for its higher monetary value.
“That’s what this whole issue is about,” Andersen said.
The Mendocino and Humboldt timber companies have spent almost $200,000 opposing the ballot measure through advertising, social media and mailers, according to Andersen and campaign documents.
The pro-Measure V campaign has spent less than $2,000.
Williams said he’s not concerned about the spending discrepancy because the evidence should be clear to voters that dead trees are a fire hazard.
Another measure on the June ballot would ban social services organizations from operating within Fort Bragg’s historic, central downtown district.
Measure U stems from the conversion of a 123-year-old hotel into offices for a nonprofit agency providing homelessness, mental health and drug rehabilitation services. The Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center also is converting at least five of the historic Old Coast Hotel’s rooms into transitional housing units.
Opponents say it’s the wrong place for such services. They’d previously sued to stop the project but failed to get an injunction. Even after 1,200 area residents signed a petition opposing the hotel as a location for social services, the project moved ahead.
The ballot measure seeks to ban similar operations that were not established before January 2015, prior to the hotel’s conversion to offices.
The third ballot initiative, Measure W, is a first step toward changing Mendocino County from a “general law” county to a charter county.