Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visits Stornetta

Aside

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.

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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.

Action Alert: support 10-mile Dunes Project

by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

As has has previously been mentioned, Redwood Chapter is supporting a project to protect natural dunes habitat at MacKerricher State Park on the Mendocino coast. The Mendocino Board of Supervisors gave the project (which  will restore natural conditions in a 1,285 acre natural preserve by removing 2.7 miles of remnant sections of a former logging road paralleling the beach, two failing culverts, and large quantities of invasive European beach grass) a green light late in August, but their decision has been appealed to the Coastal Commission, which will probably consider the appeal in November.

We’re now asking Club members and others to send letters to the Commission staff urging that they recommend a “no substantial issue” position on the project — in effect, that the Commission reject the appeal by refusing to consider it. Letters have to be handwritten or printed, signed (with contact info) and MAILED (no emails) to Bob Merrill, California Coastal Commission, 1385 8th Street, Suite 130, Arcata, CA 95521.

A sample letter and additional talking points (all supplied by Mendocino Group activist Linda Perkins) are pasted below — please take a few minutes to help in preserve our coast.

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Sample letter:

[DATE]
Bob Merrill
California Coastal Commission
1385 8th Street, Suite 130
Arcata, CA 95521

RE: Commission Appeal A-1-MEN-13-241 – Oppose Appeal, Support Project

We urge that your staff recommend to the Coastal Commission that no substantial issue exists with respect to Mendocino County’s approval of CDP #12-2012, California State Parks’ Dune Rehabilitation Project at Inglenook Fen-10 Mile Dunes MacKerricher State Park.

We are in agreement with Mendocino County Coastal Permit Administrator’s (CPA) approval of the proposed project and their findings and conditions as adopted in the June 11, 2013 CPA Staff Report, and amended by the Board of Supervisors at their August 26th, 2013 special hearing.

In regard to the proposed road removal, we believe the project to be in conformity with the public access and recreation policies of the California Coastal Act and the Local Coastal Program.

The ocean has washed sections of the remnant road away, leaving hazardous chunks exposed; other portions are covered with sand. The road is discontinuous with other roads, requiring a hearty walk of 20 minutes through sand to reach the remnant portions; current usage is therefore very low. Sea level rise will continue to undermine the remainder. It would be infeasible to retain or to reconnect this piece of road – both because of its impacts to natural ecosystem processes and endangered species habitat, and because maintenance would be nearly impossible in a naturally shifting dunes system.

After having carefully reviewed the issues, taking note that the Parks permit  was specifically conditioned by the planning department to enhance recreational opportunities for hikers and bicyclists, considering that Parks has plans to upgrade and maintain the popular hiking and biking sections of haul road within MacKerricher Park south of the Preserve, and that Parks is helping facilitate development of a bike path along Highway 1, we believe that the restoration of these rare natural dune areas is a priority project of statewide significance that deserves our full support.

YOUR SIGNATURE
YOUR PRINTED NAME
YOUR ADDRESS AND PHONE NUMBER

Additional talking points:

    * Purpose of a natural preserve (PRC 5017.91): “The purpose of natural preserves shall be to preserve such features as rare or endangered plant and animal species and their supporting ecosystems, representative examples of plant or animal communities existing in California prior to the impact of civilization…”

     * Natural Preserve is one of few remaining intact, relatively pristine dune and wetland complexes remaining in California; estimated that only 3% of intact dune systems remain in northern CA

    * Project will restore ecosystem processes in a 1,285 acre natural preserve by removing 2.7 miles of remnant sections of a former logging road paralleling the beach, two failing culverts, and European beach grass

    * Project planning and design conducted in collaboration with a team of well respected scientists, including botanical experts, a PhD Coastal Ecologist, and California Geologic Survey Senior staff

    * Southern section of road began washing out in 1983; nearly 1 mile is completely gone and most of remaining sections are covered in sand; road has not functioned as a through trail for bicycles, or people in wheelchairs for 30+ years

    * Road base, asphalt veneer, culverts, and European beach grass block natural sand movement, altering natural ecosystem processes that are critical for endangered species

    * Habitat to be restored supports three federally listed species: western snowy plover, Howell’s spineflower, and Menzies wallflower, and over eight additional special status species

    * Connecting the washed out sections of road would never be approved through the environmental permitting processes due to direct impacts to endangered species that cannot be mitigated to a level of insignificanc

    * State Park attempts to plan for multi-use trail development in dunes were abandoned in 2000 after a lengthy process determined that the project was not feasible based on engineering, cost, incompatibility with unit classification, and jeopardy to survival of listed species

    * Environmental document and permit approvals completed for the project include: an unchallenged Mitigated Negative Declaration, CDFW 1600 permit, Water Quality 401 certification, CDFW Incidental Take Permit, State Lands Commission permit, Air Quality Permit

    * County Coastal Planning and Board of Supervisors approved Coastal Development Permit; approval appealed to the State Coastal Commission based on misinformation formulated by local opposition

    * Project supported by CDFW, USFWS, Audubon Society, Sierra Club, CNPS, and political representatives Wes Chesbro, Noreen Evans, and Jared Huffman

    * Time is of the essence, as further State permitting delays may result in loss of Prop 84 funds to implement the project

Sierra Club supports HR 2735

by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

The Chapter is delighted to report that on our recommendation the Sierra Club has endorsed HR 2735, a measure directing that additional penalties be established for environmental damage caused in the course of the “unlawful production of a controlled substance on Federal property or intentional trespass on the property of another”.

As detailed in the bill’s findings, large scale illegal marijuana cultivation has been found to cause immense damage to wildlands, water sources, and wildlife habitat in many places in California and in at least 19 other states from Virginia to Hawaii. News sources have reported that California’s biggest cash crop may be marijuana, with by far the largest portion being grown illegally under the management of large-scale foreign drug trafficking operations. This illegal cultivation takes place primarily on federal lands managed by the National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, but other federal, state, and local public lands are also affected, as are private lands that have been taken over without the knowledge or consent of the rightful owner. The adverse effects of these activities include the destruction of large expanses of natural vegetation, the diversion of natural water sources, and the pollution of entire watersheds with dangerous pesticides and fertilizers, some of them so toxic that their use is not allowed in the United States under any circumstances. Wildlife habitat is degraded, and many kinds of animals systematically slaughtered to protect the crop. Even after the growing season ends, harm continues from massive amounts of equipment, trash, and human waste that are left on site post-harvest. In addition, heavily armed growers pose a danger to hikers, campers, and other persons who use federal and state lands.

HR 2735 (which is sponsored by North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman and co-sponsored by Congressmen Mike Thompson, Doug LaMalfa, and Doug Lamborn) explicitly recognizes the existence and severity of this problem, and directs the Sentencing Commission to amend its Guidelines to impose additional penalties when environmental damage takes place. The hope is that extended sentences will act as a deterrent, but whether or not this happens the inclusion of a detailed description of the environmental consequences in federal statute may help shift the lines of discourse on a complex and tricky subject.

Here in Redwood Chapter, which contains the so-called “Emerald Triangle” counties of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Lake, we know all about this problem.  A recent letter expressing support for HR 2735 was signed by nearly every environmental organization in northwestern California—except the Sierra Club. Now the Chapter and other affected local entities in California are free to do anything we can to promote its passage — and so we shall.

 

 

 

ACTION ALERT: ask Senator Feinstein to support the Berryessa Snow Mt NCA

by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

As previously mentioned, in July the House Public Lands and Environmental Regulation subcommittee held a hearing on the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act (H.R. 1025). This important landscape-level conservation proposal, which has the strong support of the Redwood Chapter, would permanently protect 350,000 acres of federal public lands with outstanding conservation values, set up a structure to improve collaborative management among affected agencies, enhance recreational potential, and benefit the visitor-based economy.

H.R. 1025 is co-sponsored by all three members of Redwood Chapter’s Congressional delegation and covers land managed by three federal agencies in five counties, including three Wilderness areas and a state Wild and Scenic River. 

There’s no predicting when a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives may occur, but in the meantime we need your help to push the proposal along in the Senate.

Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced companion legislation, S. 483, but unfortunately Senator Dianne Feinstein has still not become a co-sponsor, and without her support S. 483 stands no chance of getting a hearing.

Won’t you please take a moment to send her a letter telling her what you love about the region and the reasons it merits protection? Letters should be sent to Honorable Dianne Feinstein, 331 Hart Senate Office Bldg. Washington, D.C. 20510. Your own words are always strongest, but you are welcome to get started by copying and pasting the sample letter below. After you send your letter, please send a copy via email to vbrandon@lakelive.info.

For additional information about the proposed NCA, visit berryessasnowmountain.org.

And thanks so much for your help!

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Sample Letter:
[INSERT DATE]
Honorable Dianne Feinstein
331 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510
 
Re:  Co-sponsoring the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act

Dear Senator Feinstein:
As a resident of [TOWN AND STATE], I am writing to encourage you to co-sponsor S. 483, the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act would protect 350,000 acres of federal public lands in Yolo, Napa, Lake, Solano, and Mendocino counties. These lands provide habitat for a wide array of plants and animals, and support outstanding opportunities for hiking, camping, biking, and rafting, within a short drive of my town.

Designating this area as a national conservation area will provide well-managed recreation opportunities and safeguard the area’s natural beauty.

[INSERT WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT THE REGION AND WHY IT SHOULD BE PROTECTED]

I urge you to support efforts to establish the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area by co-sponsoring S. 483, the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area.

Sincerely,
[YOUR NAME]

Mendocino BOS Decides for the Dunes and the Plover

by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

We are delighted to be able to report that on Monday August 26 the Mendocino Board of Supervisors approved the MacKerricher Dunes Rehabilitation Project, as advocated by a number of local environmental organizations including the Sierra Club Mendocino Group.

The Inglenook Fen-Ten Mile Dunes Natural Preserve in Mackerricher State Park contains coastal dune and wetland habitats that support many special plant and animal species, and provide habitat for resident and migrating shorebirds. The Project intends to restore natural processes in the Preserve, which  was set aside in 1995 expressly “to preserve such features as rare or endangered plant and animal species and their supporting ecosystem,” by removing 2.7 miles of an old logging road through the dunes and along the beach, and by grubbing out invasive European Beach Grass.

After completing CEQA review, the Parks Department received a Coastal Development Permit from the County and was set to move forward until the Westport Municipal Advisory Council filed an appeal with the Board of Supervisors, arguing that removal of the old road would have negative impacts on public access and recreation.

As stated by Mendocino Group Executive Committee member Linda Perkins, “the value of these few remaining natural dune areas, home to rare plants and nesting habitat for the endangered snowy plover, far outweighs the relatively low level of recreational use of this segment, limited as it is by having been partly covered by sand and by having a large chunk washed out by the ocean. In addition, the segment to be removed is separated by almost a mile from the popular hiking and biking haul road that runs through MacKerricher State Park from Ward Avenue to Pudding Creek and that will not be affected by the project.” For additional information on the project, see the comment letter posted to the Mendocino Group website, redwood.sierraclub.org/mendocino.

This was a great victory, but please stay tuned: the Westport MAC has ten days to appeal the BOS decision to the Coastal Commission. Although it’s highly unlikely that the CC would overturn such an environmentally beneficial ruling by local government, the Chapter is standing ready to weigh in on the side of the County, the dunes and the snowy plover.

Red Letter Week for Conservation

by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair

This has been a truly remarkable week for conservation here on the North Coast. The first big event came on the evening of Monday July 22, when Congressman Jared Huffman’s first-ever piece of federal legislation passed the House. HR 1411 would add the 1,255-acre BLM-managed Stornetta Public Lands on the Mendocino Coast to the Coastal National Monument and tap into mitigation funding from the Gulf Coast oil spill to acquire an additional keystone parcel that will allow creation of a 10-mile coastal trail from the town of Point Arena to Manchester Beach.

This spectacularly beautiful land includes many dramatic coastal features and is a famous pupping location for seals as well as providing habitat for several endangered species. The bill maintains current recreational, ranching and research uses and will boost the regional economy with an increase in tourism, the area’s largest employer. With no known opposition, passage would not ordinarily be remarkable, but these are not ordinary times: this bill is the very first public lands preservation legislation to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in more than three years, so can be seen as a tribute to the adept political skills of our freshman Congressman. It moves on to the Senate next, where easy passage is expected.
 
Then on Tuesday July 23 the House Public Lands and Environmental Regulation subcommittee held a hearing on the proposed Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area Act (H.R. 1025), an important landscape-level conservation proposal that would permanently protect 350,000 acres of federal public lands with outstanding conservation values.  The bill, which is co-sponsored by all three members of Redwood Chapter’s congressional delegation (Congressmen Mike Thompson, John Garamendi, and Jared Huffman) covers land managed by three federal agencies in five counties,  including three Wilderness areas and a state Wild and Scenic River. Along with Congressmen Thompson and Garamendi, Napa county cattle rancher Judy Ahmann testified in its support. The hearing has been posted at http://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=342550

 
In the meantime, the Chapter has been watching with dismay as pressure on the over-allocated waters of the Klamath River system continue to mount. Large returns of fall Chinook salmon are expected again this year (a Good Thing), but if these spawning fish encounter low flows and warm algae laden water a fish kill on the scale of the one that occurred in 2002 is all too possible. Releases of Trinity River water offer the best chance of averting this catastrophe, so we were heartened to see a letter from Congressmen Thompson, Huffman, and George Miller to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell advocating this course of action. This excellent letter is also available on line at http://www.times-standard.com/guest_opinion/ci_23698708/plea-interior-department-prevent-fish-kill-trinity-klamath?source=rss