Mendocino County elections officials have verified passage of a June 7 ballot measure aimed at limiting the controversial practice of poisoning unwanted hardwood trees and leaving them to die in forests, a practice critics allege creates a serious fire danger.
Yet the consequences of the measure remain murky.
When the last of the ballots were counted late last week, so-called Measure V had won with just over 62 percent of the vote, officials said. More ballots were counted after June 7 — 16,525 — than were counted on election night.
The biggest remaining question is the effect of Measure V on the primary target of the measure, Mendocino Redwood Co., and the company’s response.
“I have no idea” what’s next, said Mike Jani, the company’s president and chief forester. He said the company is still evaluating the potential effects of the new ordinance, which county officials said will go into effect 10 days after supervisors give their stamp of approval. The measure’s proponents believe the company, which spent more than $200,000 to battle the measure, will sue to stop the ordinance from taking effect. Timber company officials won’t say.
It’s unclear how the ordinance may impact business because it doesn’t forbid using “hack-and-squirt” operations, so named because they involve making cuts in trees, then applying herbicides to the wounds. The ordinance makes it a nuisance to leave standing for more than 90 days any intentionally killed trees more than 16 feet tall. Landowners are liable if such operations cause damage to structures, water sources and telecommunication lines within 3,300 feet of the dead trees.
Those parameters “cover most of the footprint of the county,” said Ted Williams, chief of the Albion-Little River Fire Department, who was at the forefront of the ballot measure effort.
There is no enforcement mechanism in the ordinance.
But it could have serious impact on forestland management, making it more costly for both corporate owners and small landowners, forestry officials say.
On average, the cost of thinning forests through hack-and-squirt while leaving the dead trees standing is about $250 per acre, said Greg Giusti, a forest advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension. The cost of cutting and leaving them on the ground is about $750 an acre, while cutting and hauling them away is about $1,000 an acre.
Mendocino Redwood Co. officials say hack-and-squirt operations are crucial to restoring its forests to their original, conifer dominated state. The tree compositions have been altered by decades of overcutting and poor management under prior ownerships, company officials said. They contend the practice of leaving dead trees in place does not increase fire risks significantly.
Williams and others disagree. He said he became alarmed by the massive number of dead trees standing in the forests in and around his district, and launched a campaign against the practice, which he and other critics contend has enhanced the likelihood of fires and increased the danger of fighting forest fires.
An estimated 1.5 million trees are being killed and left standing in Mendocino County forests each year, Williams has said. Mendocino Redwood Co. uses the practice extensively on the 228,852 acres it owns in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. Its affiliate, Humboldt Redwood Co., owns an additional 209,300 acres, where the method also is practiced.