Opponents of logging plan along Gualala River dream of expanding park
Provoked by a new round of scrutiny over hard-fought plans to harvest timber in the Gualala River floodplain, a contingent of North Coast residents has launched a petition drive to use the land for expansion of a public park instead.
It’s the stuff of fantasy for the moment, given the property owners’ stated unwillingness to sell to conservationists and their desire to “ensure this area remains in timber production.”
But people like Anchor Bay resident Kathleen Chasey want state forestry officials to know that riverfront acreage involved in the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan would make a welcome addition to adjoining Gualala Point Regional Park, as an alternative to what they deem an environmentally destructive logging scheme.
County park officials are on board, as well, having eyed the swath of river since at least 1955 as ideal land for a major regional or state park.
“If there’s a window of opportunity to get a willing seller — however that willing seller comes about — for all or just a portion of the property, we want to be ready,” said Chasey, 61.
The nascent campaign was sparked largely in response to a discussion of alternative uses for land within Gualala Redwood Timber’s revised, recirculating harvest plan that Chasey and others felt improperly dismissed a conservation easement or public land purchase as a “remote and speculative” possibility.
Not so, said Chasey.
The Dogwood property, along with more than 29,000 acres of adjoining timberlands acquired by Gualala Redwood Timber in 2015, was also bid on by a coalition of conservation groups that put together its own, legitimate multimillion-dollar offer, she said.
In addition, the Mendocino Land Trust and the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy have an interim, confidential conservation buyer in escrow on separate, combined parcels totaling 112 acres at the mouth of the Gualala River.
The smaller properties, known as Mill Bend, were held back by the Ollie Edmunds family and Gualala Redwood Inc. when it sold its timber holdings four years ago to the Roger Burch Family and Pacific States Industries Inc., which owns Redwood Empire Sawmills in Cloverdale and Asti.
The unnamed buyer of Mill Bend is conducting due diligence on the land and the condition of a former mill site at the large hairpin curve downstream from the river’s mouth. If the purchase is completed, he or she will hold the property until the conservation groups can organize funding to buy it, according to Ann Cole, executive director of the Mendocino Land Trust.
Of course, that could be the last of the conservation purchases. Gualala Redwood Timber has every hope of winning permission to renew logging on the river, despite two Superior Court rulings against it so far after four years of filings and revisions of its plan.
Company officials were not available for comment Thursday, but their logging plan has been revised and subjected to four periods of public review. Now in its fifth, it’s been drafted to comply with Forest Practice Rules designed to limit “potentially significant impacts” on wildlife habitat and fisheries, including 30-foot no-cut zones along the water.
But Gualala Redwood Timber has been defeated in court twice by Friends of the Gualala River, an environmental group that fears the company’s extraction of large, century-old redwood trees in flood-prone areas of the watershed will mean running roughshod over sensitive wetland habitat in a river that also hosts protected salmon and steelhead fish.