Mendocino Group supports timber harvest lawsuit in Albion

“…. the war never ends. It just takes on different forms.”

By Shoshana Hebshi, Redwood Chapter Communications Coordinator

Being an environmentalist on the North Coast can feel like standing in front of an armed tank in peaceful protest during a military battle. Sometimes there’s a standoff, sometimes there’s a peaceful retreat, and sometimes there’s destructive escalation. But the war never ends. It just takes on different forms.

For Mendocino Group executive committee member Linda Perkins and many of her neighbors in Albion, a town of about 800 people on the Mendocino coast, the battle is between residents and the Mendocino Redwood Company. It’s a battle to protect clean water in Railroad Gulch, part of the Albion River watershed, to reduce fire danger and to limit the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration by forests. The battle has the taken form of a lawsuit, filed last fall by the Forest Preservation Society. Sierra Club Mendocino Group filed an amicus brief in January to support the lawsuit.

The legal action calls attention to environmental problems associated with the Timber Harvest Plan, which puts 758 acres of forest literally on the chopping block.

Even with the lawsuit, the THP is moving forward. Mendocino County Superior Court ruled against a temporary stay, and the case is now in District 3 of the Appellate Court. Sierra Club and Forest Preservation Society hope this case will set legal precedent on environmental regulations, said Perkins.

“The destruction of the forest will cause many ecological and water quality problems,” said Perkins, an expert at dissecting Timber Harvest Plans. “Our group is very happy to add Sierra Club’s voice and support to the effort.”

Chief among the complaints, and the one that is most sound in today’s political climate, is that deforestation acts against the state’s efforts to curb carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change. In 2016, the State of California committed itself to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as CalFire, enforces laws that regulate logging on private lands. When a THP is proposed, it must be approved by CalFire.

Though CalFire states on its website that it will not approve a THP that doesn’t comply with “forestry and environmental regulations,” it is not set up to reject a proposal simply because it is “unpopular with the public.”

Yet, Perkins argues, the Railroad Gulch THP goes far beyond being unpopular with locals.

CalFire abused its discretion by not calculating cumulative effects or short-term effects for carbon sequestration,” said Perkins. “They dodged the issue, and that’s…the main legal argument.”

Other environmental concerns outlined in the amicus brief are the destruction of the threatened Northern Spotted Owl’s habitat and the local Albion River watershed.

“All these rivers are part of our daily lives,” Perkins said. “We live with the effects.”

While the Mendocino Redwood Company once pledged to conduct its harvesting plans with reverence to the environment, Perkins said a change in management has changed the company’s approach.

MRC’s new methods, she said, are much more aggressive with overcutting and with the use of an herbicide called Imazapyr to kill unwanted flora, such as tanoaks. “It’s a wide-spectrum herbicide, meaning it kills other things than the target plant, so it will go into the roots and get into the ground water and affect nearby plants. There’ve been no studies done on the effects of that,” she said.

Plus, she added, the size and scope of the plan is much larger than past plans. MRC intends to harvest about 60 percent of the trees in Railroad Gulch.

As the plan moves forward, the group is hopeful to get a hearing in the appeals court. “This hearing is essential, as the only venue for review of the inadequate actions by CalFire is in the courts. This is the check on power of one agency to ignore the state’s commitment on greenhouse gas emissions,” said Rixanne Wehren, Sierra Club Mendocino Group’s coastal chair.

But, Perkins added, with more public outcry, vigilance and funding, projects like this will have a harder time moving forward without adequate environmental review.

How you can help:

  • Join the Redwood Chapter and get active in your local group. Mendocino Group needs activists and new members throughout the county.
  • Donate to Sierra Club Redwood Chapter directly.
  • Write letters to the editor in opposition to deforestation and destructive logging practices. Read this article from July 2016 on logging activity on the North Coast.
  • Attend public hearings on environmental issues affecting your community.
  • Connect with Redwood Chapter on Facebook or Instagram for the latest updates on this plan and others.