224-acre logging plan above Russian River near Guerneville awaiting approval
A plan to log 224 acres of steep land above the Russian River, on the outskirts of Guerneville and Monte Rio, is expected to win approval in the coming days despite heavy opposition from residents and activists alarmed by the project’s proximity to rural communities and the natural landscape that draws tourists there.
Representatives for the Roger Burch family, which owns the property and the Redwood Empire Sawmill in Cloverdale — where logs from the Silver Estates timber harvest would be milled — said the forest is overstocked and badly in need of thinning to promote the growth of larger trees and reduce excess fuels.
But opponents say they remain unsatisfied by the planning process and have myriad outstanding concerns — everything from effects on wildlife habitat to soil stability, wildfire risks and visual impacts.
They say the plan is governed by “outdated” forest practice rules that fail to account for climate change and heightened wildfire risks where wildland abuts or mixes with settled areas.
“I still feel like we’re living with the legacy of Stumptown, and we still have to make amends,” said John Dunlap, a leader of the local Guerneville Forest Coalition. Stumptown was the nickname acquired by the community during the logging boom at the turn of the 20th century, when timber from the area helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fires. “It’s sort of like we’re not really listening to what the environment is telling us.”
The land at issue rises above Neeley Road across from Guernewood Park, about three-quarters of a mile south of Guerneville, then doglegs along Mays Canyon Road back toward the river area across from Northwood Golf Club at the edge of Monte Rio. It is zoned for timber production and needs to be managed properly if it is to retain its value, said Nick Kent, resource manager for Redwood Empire Sawmill.
Timber harvest rules and the company’s own desire to minimize its impact mean crews will bypass the steepest, most landslide-prone slopes and leave buffer zones along the river, while logging selectively, Kent said.
“It’s a pretty light-touch harvest plan,” he said.
A representative for Supervisor Lynda Hopkins who toured the area with Kent this winter agreed.
“It respects and protects the ecosystem while allowing for needed thinning for forest health, fire protection, and return on investment for the landowners,” said Elise VanDyne said, the field representative for Hopkins, whose 5th District takes in the area.
At the same time, Hopkins shared reservations on the process used to approve the project and wants to ensure that all concerns about the impacts on the environment and infrastructure have been adequately addressed by Cal Fire before the project moves forward.
“While we are glad to hear that the historic Clar Tree will not be logged, we have heard compelling arguments about the need for expanding the current buffer zone to protect the tree,” Hopkins said Tuesday, after this story was published. “Additionally, we have heard community concerns about potential impacts to the 116 scenic view corridor, which we believe merits additional investigation.”
Sonoma Land Trust Executive Director Eamon O’Byrne said he saw no “major threats to the surrounding ecosystem.”
“Given the unhealthy state of much of our forested lands in the county and fire danger and ecological impacts this situation represents, the Silver Estates (timber harvest plan) appears to be a responsible plan, and we said so to Nick,” O’Byrne said via email. “However, all THPs still provide latitude for a somewhat more intensive harvest in certain areas than would be preferred for a quick return of forest cover, and we encouraged Redwood Empire to stay the course in their stated intent to do this the right way.”
Opponents concerned about environmental risks
Members of the Guerneville Forest Coalition, formed last year after the timber harvest proposal was filed, still aren’t convinced the plan goes far enough to protect the neighboring landscape and its residents. They are prepared to fight the logging plan in court, if it comes to that, partnering with Forestville nonprofit Forest Unlimited to raise funds in case they need to sue.
The Burch family also own Gualala Redwood Timber, which has been locked in a legal battle with a community group since 2016 over a 342-acre timber harvest plan that takes in the floodplain near the mouth of the Gualala River. A state appeals court recently ruled in the project’s favor.