s
s
Sections
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
This Week Only
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com PLUS the eEdition and our mobile app for $49 per year.

Add a year of Sunday home delivery for just $20 more!
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
This Week Only
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com PLUS the eEdition and our mobile app for $49 per year.

Add a year of Sunday home delivery for just $20 more!
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
This Week Only
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com PLUS the eEdition and our mobile app for $49 per year.

Add a year of Sunday home delivery for just $20 more!
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
This Week Only
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com PLUS the eEdition and our mobile app for $49 per year.

Add a year of Sunday home delivery for just $20 more!
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
This Week Only
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com PLUS the eEdition and our mobile app for $49 per year.

Add a year of Sunday home delivery for just $20 more!
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
This Week Only
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com PLUS the eEdition and our mobile app for $49 per year.

Add a year of Sunday home delivery for just $20 more!
Already a subscriber?

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.

Mendocino Redwood and forestry officials say it’s unclear how much of an impact the new ordinance will have on the company’s forest management practices because it doesn’t actually ban the practice of poisoning trees. “It doesn’t say ‘thou shalt not,’” Giusti said.

And it doesn’t provide the county with staff to monitor forest practices for nuisances, which likely would require a professional forester, he said.

But Williams said the ordinance has a secret enforcement weapon: the certification process that deems products “green.” A large part of Mendocino Redwood’s sales are to Home Depot, a contract dependent on green certification, Williams said.

Last year, the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance renewed Mendocino Redwood’s certification despite protests from environmentalists who contended the use of hack-and-squirt in forest management should not be allowed. Rainforest Alliance officials said it’s an accepted forestry practice and breaks no laws.

Williams said certifiers have told him that having an ordinance against the practice could interfere with the green certification.

The organization requires companies follow all local, state and federal laws, but the ordinance doesn’t actually prohibit hack-and-squirt, said Jamie Overton, forest certification coordinator for the Rainforest Alliance.

She said the organization will study the new ordinance — and the practice — when it re-evaluates the timber company’s certification later this summer. If the new ordinance does create an effective prohibition on leaving dead trees standing, it could have far-reaching effects on all forestland owners, not just Mendocino Redwood, Giusti said. The cost of cutting down all the unwanted trees could discourage proper forest management, he said.

“It forces people more toward a do-nothing option, which is not a good option,” he said. Among other things, it means more trees competing for limited water to the detriment of the overall forest’s health, Giusti said.

Landowners also might choose to fell the trees, and just leave them on the ground, which is more of a fire hazard than leaving them standing, he said.

“The wording is so vague, there won’t be any major change unless the courts get involved,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter