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Mendocino County supervisors reject timber resolution

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A timber-management practice that poisons hardwood trees and leaves them to decompose in forests drew a crowd of 200 people to a Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, and most of them left disappointed.

The attendees — mostly rural residents, longtime timber activists and local firefighters — called on the board to restrict, or even ban, such operations, which are largely unregulated.

Firefighters are primarily concerned that an estimated 1 million dead trees the practice has left standing in area forests are creating an increased fire hazard that could place both residents and firefighters in harm’s way.

Residents who live adjacent to the forests are worried both about the fire danger and the use of toxic herbicides.

“Fire season is here. Do something now,” resident Terry D’Selkie said.

“We’re asking for oversight,” said Albion Little River Fire Protection District Chief Ted Williams, whose 44-square-mile coastal fire district includes and is surrounded by commercial timberland.

But their concerns went unheeded. The board considered, then rejected, a resolution that would have asked timber companies to voluntarily suspend the tree-poisoning practice for up to six months while its effects are studied.

The three supervisors who voted against the resolution said they did so for a variety of reasons, including because the resolution lacked clarity and had no teeth.

Those seeking local forest regulations also criticized the proposed resolution as too weak.

Williams, whose district is leading the charge for regulations of the procedure, had asked for a binding ordinance that would limit how long dead trees could be left standing after being treated with herbicides.

His fire district’s board is considering its own ordinance, but it would apply only to its jurisdiction.

Mendocino Redwood Co. President Mike Jani was among just a handful of people at the meeting who defended the practice. He said it’s a necessary tool to restore balance to what once were conifer-dominated forests. Decades of overcutting by former owners of the company’s land — which comprises 10 percent of the county’s land mass — caused the current conditions that include overgrowth of hardwood trees, brush and invasive plants, he said.

He also said it has not been proven that leaving dead hardwoods — largely tanoaks — standing in the forest increases fire danger and said that it eventually could decrease forest flammability. Leaving the trees to rot in place also will add a natural layer of debris to the forest floor, Jani said.

The controversy over poisoning trees on commercial timberland has spiked in recent months, but it’s not new.

At the urging of constituents in 1994, county supervisors adopted a resolution that contended that leaving dead trees standing in forests was a fire danger and asked the Board of Forestry to put a halt to the practice, recalled Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who proposed the more recent resolution.

Nothing ever came of the request.

The board plans to resume discussion of the issue at a future meeting.

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

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