Celebrating the Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument

By Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

Image On March 11, 2014 President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to issue a proclamation adding the 1665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument, allowing the Monument to “walk on shore” (in the words of California Bureau of Land Management Director Jim Kenna) for the first time.

Under the management of the BLM Ukiah field office since 2004, Point Arena-Stornetta is located on Mendocino County’s south coast adjacent to Manchester State Beach and the Point Arena Lighthouse. It includes more than two miles of Pacific coastline with natural bridges, tide pools, waterfalls, sinkholes and blowholes, as well as two miles of the Garcia River, the Garcia estuary, a quarter-mile of beach adjacent to Manchester State Park, and a five-acre island called Sea Island Rocks. The area is recognized not only for breathtaking scenic values, but also for outstanding natural resources that include riparian corridors, extensive coastal wetlands, wind-sculptured stands of cypress, wildflower-strewn meadows, and shifting sand dunes, a varied ecosystem which taken as a whole provides significant wildlife habitat. Otters and seals gambol in the surf, brown pelicans sail by in characteristic single file, and countless gulls and shorebirds call the area home. ImageOverwhelming public enthusiasm for adding this spectacular area to the Monument was obvious last November, when a standing-room-only crowd of at least 300 people crammed into the diminutive Point Arena city hall to welcome Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Congressman Jared Huffman, BLM Deputy Director Neil Kornze, and countless other federal, state, and local dignitaries.  When Secretary Jewell asked if she should recommend that the President give Point Arena-Stornetta Monument status, every hand in the room reached towards the sky (including her own).

On March 12, the day after the Presidential declaration, Secretary Jewell came back to the coast to join numerous other agency officials, representatives of Congressmen Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, local tribal members, and many community activists in a day of rejoicing at the culmination of so many years of collaborative effort.

Hundreds of people gathered on a headland under a bright blue sky full of wheeling gulls and before a backdrop of crashing surf to hug, cheer, applaud, wave flags and listen to a succession of speakers marvel at the place, and to affirm the solidarity of the community in making this achievement possible.

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Members of the Point Arena/Manchester Band of Pomo Indians opened the gathering with a prayer and dances, and students from Pacific Community Charter School closed it by singing “This Land is Your Land.”

In between Secretary Jewell pointed out that “great places drive local economies” and “it takes a village to make a monument.” She also mentioned President Obama’s belief in our “moral obligation to leave these lands better than we found them,” and along with Mike Boots of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality referred to the President’s fulfillment of his State of the Union promise to “use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”

This was a day of pure joy, a celebration of a spectacular landscape, of the communities that cherish its wonders, and of the most admirable attributes of this our nation.

TPP Town Hall February 11

Ghosts of NAFTA and the Future of Globalization: Learn about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

The most recent Redwood Needles features an article detailing the Club’s concerns about the TPP, a massive international trade deal that some people have called “NAFTA on steroids.” This agreement carries dangerous environmental consequences for the planet and for our own lives, at home and abroad, and to make things even more ominous, its proponents are trying to whisk it into law under special Congressional “fast track” rules that would eliminate the usual opportunities for debate and amendment.

The Sierra Club wants to stand up for balanced and responsible “fair trade” rather than corporate “free trade,” and to support working families, the environment, consumer safety and sustainable development.

So to spread the word about TPP, in collaboration with the North Bay Central Labor Council, Sonoma County Conservation Action, and other local organizations, we are hosting a free public Town Hall meeting in Santa Rosa on Tuesday February 11. The event will be held from 6:45-8:30PM at the Glaser Center Theater, 547 Mendocino Avenue. Please join us!

Congressman Mike Thompson is under tremendous pressure from the White House to facilitate passage of the TPP, and did not join Redwood Chapter Representatives Jared Huffman and John Garamendii when they and 170 other House members sent the President a letter expressing their grave concerns with the TPP “fast-track” process. Congressman Thompson needs our support to withstand this pressure, so please take a moment to call his district office at 707 226-9898 to let him know that you oppose fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

For more information about the February 11 Town Hall please download a flyer or contact Jesse Swanhuyser at 805 689 1469 — and see you there!

Victoria Brandon
Redwood Chapter Chair

Sonoma County celebrates Wilderness50

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Sonoma County celebrates Wilderness50

On January 28 Sierra Club members led by Sonoma Group chair Dan Kerbein and Redwood Chapter outings chair Carol Vellutini accepted a proclamation celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark federal Wilderness Act from Supervisor Shirlee Zane (right front). Sonoma County was one of the first local jurisdictions in the United States mark this occasion, with a resolution acknowledging the “50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, upholding that proud tradition and resolving that future generations will trek forest paths, navigate winding rivers, and scale rocky peaks as visitors to the majesty of our great outdoors.”

After thanking the Board, Kerbein commented on the invaluable recreational opportunities offered by wilderness areas on the North Coast, as well as their important role in preserving wildlife habitat and protecting our watersheds. “The influence of wild places on our lives and our national identity has been profound,” he said. “During this year of celebration let us recommit to preserving them in perpetuity, for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and all the generations to come.”

Court Rejects Plan to Clearcut California Redwoods for Vineyard

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum has rejected a plan to clearcut 154 acres of Northern California redwoods to plant vineyards for a winery. The proposal in northwestern Sonoma County was challenged by the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Gualala River. In response, Judge Daum said the state’s “environmental impact report” for Artesa Winery’s forest-to-vineyard project violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The highest and best use of coastal forests is to remain in their natural condition so they can protect our coastal rivers, support fish and wildlife, and combat climate change by sequestering carbon,” said Victoria Brandon, chair of the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter.

The judge found that, in preparing the environmental review for the project, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) failed to properly analyze alternatives that would be less damaging to the environment, such as using an unforested area for the vineyard.The court also determined that the agency did not appropriately address the lost carbon sequestration that would result from destroying the redwood forest. Redwood forests are well known for their capacity to absorb massive amounts of greenhouse gases as they mature over time.

The judge also agreed with the conservation groups that the environmental report wrongly ignored California Board of Forestry policy regarding forest conversions. The board is charged with overseeing forest policy in California and opposes the conversion of prime timberland, like the project site. Finally, the court ruled that Cal Fire failed to properly address the project’s pesticide impacts as well as the noise impacts.

“Rather than be destroyed to make room for a vineyard, this redwood forest will continue to do what it does best – provide habitat for wildlife and remove harmful carbon emissions from the atmosphere,” said Justin Augustine, attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Sonoma County has already experienced a large-scale conversion of natural oak woodlands and inland forests to agriculture. We have drawn a line to stop furtherdestruction of redwood forests and salmon streams for more acres of grapes,” said Chris Poehlmann, president of Friends of the Gualala River.

The project is funded by Spanish company Codorniu S.A., the owner of Napa Valley’s Artesa Winery, and was approved by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Contact:
Chris Poehlmann, Friends of the Gualala River, (707) 886-5182
Victoria Brandon, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter, (707) 994-1931
Justin Augustine, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 302

  • The Sierra Club works to protect and restore wild places, public health and wildlife for future generations. The Redwood Chapter covers northwestern California. Redwood.SierraClub.org
  • The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. BiologicalDiversity.org
  • Friends of the Gualala River is a volunteer nonprofit group that advocates for preservation of the Gualala River watershed in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. GualalaRiver.org

Good News on 10-Mile Dunes – Coastal Commission Rules “No Substantial Issue”

by Linda Perkins, Mendocino Group Conservation Chair

Breaking good news! on November 13th the Coastal Commission voted unanimously to uphold the 10-mile dunes project at MacKerricher State Park. This means that the funding is secure and we can all look forward to watching a recovering Dunes ecosystem. For more details, visit our website: redwood.sierraclub.org

The Chapter blog post on the 10-Mile Dunes last month left you with the news that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve Parks’ Coastal Development Permit and to deny the appeal that brought it to the Supes. Good news!

After that approval, as expected, three individual appellants carried their opposition to the next level by filing an appeal with the Coastal Commission. The primary claim of the appeal is that Parks’ proposed removal of old haul road remnants will deny them access to the ocean and to the dunes systems.

Our position is that the minor recreational use made of the continually disintegrating haul road through the dunes pales in comparison to the benefits that will accrue to protected wildlife species as a result of the planned restoration project. All access points into the Preserve remain open, as do the dunes. And most people continue to use the preferred Coastal Trail along the hard-packed sand at the shoreline – within sight of the ocean. Of course!

Both the Mendocino Group and the Redwood Chapter studied the project and submitted comments to the Coastal Commission in support, as did Congressman Jared Huffman. State Parks’ focus on ecosystem restoration – that includes hand removal of invasive beach grass and ice plant and re-planting of native species – will create an additional 250 acres of critical wintering and nesting habitat for the Western Snowy Plover, restore rare native plants and dune vegetation, and, with the haul road gone, free two streams from the constriction of obstructive culverts. What’s not to like?

Coastal Commission staff reviewed the appeal and issued a 500-page report, 40 pages of which were their “Findings and Declarations”, including their analysis of the appellants’ contentions.

Their conclusion: “Therefore, Commission staff recommends that the Commission find the appeal raises no substantial issue with respect to the grounds on which it was filed.” That’s more good news!

Now that the Commission has agree with Staff’s findings, the permit is approved and Parks can go forward with restoration of this rare and precious piece of California’s natural heritage.

Thanks to all for your letters of support that led to the Dunes being declared the winner!

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visits Stornetta

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by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

On November 8 the California coast put on a tremendous show to welcome Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell: the sun was shining, surf pounding, blowholes spouting, and humpback whales breaching.

Secretary Jewell came to Point Arena to hold a town hall meeting to discuss the community’s vision for the permanent protection of this outstandingly scenic area, and specifically to get their reactions to the proposal to add the Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument, a proposal that the Sierra Club strongly supports.  In July the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 1411, Representative Jared Huffman’s bill enabling the Monument to “Expand onto the Land,” and S. 61, a companion bill sponsored by both of California’s Senators is under consideration in the other chamber.

Public enthusiasm for this idea was demonstrated by a standing-room-only crowd of at least 300 people who crammed into the diminutive Point Arena city hall to welcome the secretary, Congressman Huffman, and BLM Deputy Director Neil Kornze, and countless other federal, state, and local dignitaries. Members of the Point Arena/Manchester Band of Pomo Indians opened the gathering with a prayer and a dance, followed by students from Pacific Community Charter reading their own poetry and singing “This Land is Your Land.” In response, Secretary Jewell thanked the Stornetta family for their stewardship and vision, and went on to recognize that “communities know lands that are special, lands that have nurtured people for thousands of years. “ When she asked for a show of hands on recommending that the President use his powers under the Antiquities Act to add Stornetta to the Monument should Congress fail to act, the expression of support was instantaneous and unanimous — including that of the secretary herself, whose hand reached towards the sky.

Despite the remote location, several dozen Sierra Club representatives attended this inspiring event, including Redwood Chapter Conservation Chair Diane Beck, Mendocino coastal activist Linda Perkins, Deputy Program Director Michael Bosse, and national Wildlands Committee member Angel Martinez. I had the privilege of appearing at the podium on behalf of the Chapter to thank Secretary Jewell for visiting the North Coast, express the Club’s enthusiastic support for the permanent protection of the Point Arena-Stornetta area by including it in the monument, and present her with 1800 signatures on a support petition that the Club had circulated in an online campaign.

Next step: we’re all looking forward to making another journey to the Mendocino coast for the dedication ceremonies.

Redwood Chapter defends coastal forest from conversion

by Dave Jordan

The on-going battle to protect north coast forestland from conversion to vineyards went to court on October 18. The Redwood Chapter, along with co-plaintiffs Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Gualala River, challenged the environmental impact report (EIR) prepared by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal-Fire) for the “Fairfax” conversion project proposed by Spanish-owned winery Codorniu Napa, which does business as Artesa Vineyards and Winery. We filed suit because we think the highest and best use of coastal forests is to remain in their natural condition so they can protect our coastal rivers, support fish and wildlife, and combat climate change by sequestering carbon.

Codorniu received a 154-acre timberland conversion permit from Cal-Fire. They plan to cut more than a million board-feet of redwood and Douglas fir, bulldoze the land and plant a vineyard on a property in northwestern Sonoma County, near the community of Annapolis. Cal-Fire spent more than seven years preparing the EIR, which states, implausibly, that the project would cause no significant or cumulative adverse environmental impacts.

Protecting forestland  The importance of this case goes far beyond the 154 acres proposed for destruction by Artesa Winery’s project.  As the first forestland-to-vineyard conversion project in the State of California ever to complete, and receive approval based on, a full environmental impact report, this case will set a precedent.

If Artesa ‘s project goes forward, other projects will follow. If, on the other hand, Artesa’s project is stopped, that will send a message to developers that the Redwood Chapter and our allies insist on strict enforcement of California environmental laws. We will not allow regulatory agencies to rubber-stamp projects without the thorough environmental review required by law.

The Redwood Chapter campaign to protect forestland from conversion to vineyards was launched more than a decade ago by the late Jay Halcomb, who chaired the campaign, and later became chair of the Redwood Chapter, until his death last year. Jay led the ultimately successful effort to stop the misleadingly named “Preservation Ranch” proposal.

As demonstrated by Preservation Ranch, there are many thousands of acres of north coast forest that developers would like to chop down in order to grow grapes. But the most profitable use of land in today’s economy may not be the most beneficial use of that land for the long-term health of the environment.

By the time you read this, the judge is likely to have issued his decision in the case. Visit redwood.sierraclub.org to find out the latest information.

Legal case   In his written briefs and oral argument at the hearing in Sonoma County Superior Court on October 18, attorney Paul Carroll, representing plaintiffs Redwood Chapter and Friends of the Gualala River, enumerated some of the many serious deficiencies of the EIR. The EIR fails to discuss the conflicts between the project and the Sonoma County General Plan and California Board of Forestry policy, fails to consider a range of less damaging alternatives, fails to mitigate the effects of pesticides and the effects of noise, and fails to mitigate impacts to cultural heritage (the project site was inhabited by the Pomo people for thousands of years).

Attorney Justin Augustine, representing plaintiff Center for Biological Diversity, focused his attention on the issue of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and carbon sequestration. He argued that Cal-Fire had used an improper baseline against which to measure the GHG impacts of the project. Under California law, the baseline must be “existing conditions,” which Augustine argued is a standing forest. Cal-Fire instead compared the project to a hypothetical condition, which it called “business as usual.”

 When is a forest not a forest?   The EIR says, “Vegetative cover on the timberland conversion portion of the site consists of young-growth coast redwood and Douglas-fir intermixed with madrone, tanoak, coast live oak, California bay, and bigleaf maple… Timber on the project site is located in even aged stands that are approximately 50 to 75 years old.”

Despite this description, the defendants’ attorneys argued that, “the project site is not a ‘redwood forest”” and that “conifer timber is now just beginning to recapture the site.”

Considering that these trees have been growing for more than fifty years and that the developers expect to harvest ”approximately 1.25 million board-feet“ of redwood and Douglas fir timber, this argument seems dubious to say the least.  And since almost all of the forest on the north coast has been logged at least once, the argument that second growth forest isn’t really forest at all, and does not deserve protection, is extremely dangerous.