Logging plan along Gualala River faces opposition
A disputed plan to log century- old redwoods along the Gualala River is running into stiff opposition from environmentalists who say the days of timber operations near North Coast streams, even on land long used for commercial logging, should be over.
Opponents of the proposed timber harvest in northwestern Sonoma County are again taking aim at a project they say poses potential harm to wildlife and plants. It would harvest trees on about 330 acres in the river’s flood plain.
The use of heavy equipment in such an area to handle and haul away downed trees is not appropriate and shouldn’t be allowed by the state, opponents say.
“It’s an ecosystem. It’s not just a tree farm,” said Chris Poehlmann, president of Friends of the Gualala River, a nonprofit group that has taken a tough stand on other logging and vineyard conversion projects in the watershed, home to greatly diminished runs of coho salmon and steelhead trout.
But representatives of Gualala Redwood Timber Inc. say the proposed logging, revised from original plans, is not the intense harvest that critics fear and will be carried out with safeguards for the environment. The company is the relatively new owner of more than 29,000 acres of timberland straddling the Sonoma-Mendocino county line and stretching inland from the coastal town of Gualala and the mouth of the Gualala River, site of a Sonoma County park.
State rules prohibit any logging within 30 feet of a stream, said Gualala Redwood Timber spokesman Henry Alden, and require 80 percent of the canopy cover left intact within 150 feet.
“The rhetoric is about the devastating impact,” Alden said. “… I understand the concerns, but I don’t think they’ll be realized. In fact, I’m confident they will not.”
The debate reflects continuing friction over traditional timber practices in a region where conservation interests have acquired large swaths of forest land to manage for habitat restoration and wildlife corridors, with limited logging away from sensitive areas.
It also represents a tug of war over continued logging on a swath of mixed redwood and Douglas fir forest that conservationists had coveted before it was purchased last spring by the Roger Burch family and their company, San Jose-based Pacific States Industries.
Environmental activists point to damage done by a century of logging and other activities in the watershed. They argue that it needs a rest.
Many in the coastal community also cling to hope that the regional park at the river’s mouth may one day be expanded to take in some or all of the riverfront acreage at issue. Sonoma County Regional Parks was among the conservation interests outbid in the property’s purchase last year.
Community wildlife columnist Jeanne Jackson and her husband, Richard, have collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition urging Gualala Redwood Timber to preserve the redwood stands along the river and consider selling the land to a conservation group.
Many of us have walked this land for decades,” Jackson, a resident of nearby Anchor Bay, wrote recently. “We call it the ‘Magical Forest’ and the ‘Enchanted Forest.’ To log it would be a disgrace.”
The area was clear-cut at the turn of the last century, and has been thinned a few times since, leaving second-growth redwoods all in the 100-year-old range, said Alden, the Gualala Redwood Timber spokesman, who also managed the property under the previous owner.