Victory for the Forest UPDATE: Judge rules on Disputed Gualala River logging plan, Dogwood

>> Date: June 29, 2017
>> After halting logging in the environmentally sensitive mature floodplain
>> redwood forest of the lower Gualala River, Judge René Chouteau of Sonoma
>> County Superior Court awarded $162,000 in attorney’s fees to the
>> successful parties in environmental litigation over CAL FIRE’s approval of
>> the Dogwood Timber Harvest Plan. The successful parties are the
>> Petitioners, Friends of Gualala River, Forest Unlimited, and California
>> Native Plant Society, represented by attorney Edward Yates. The fee award
>> ruling was issued June 27, 2017.
>> CAL FIRE’s consideration and approval of the Dogwood logging plan sparked
>> public opposition for over a year culminating in a public protest
>> demonstration in July 2016. Members of the public, including the
>> Petitioners, were concerned that the proposed logging would significantly
>> affect Gualala River reaches that are designated as Wild and Scenic,
>> especially those reaches above the Gualala River’s mouth and estuary and
>> adjacent to a regional Park. The forester hired by the timber company and
>> landowner, Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT), prepared the environmental
>> analysis used by CAL FIRE to justify the five miles of floodplain logging
>> on the lower Gualala River. It concluded logging would have no significant
>> impacts, despite a lack of evidence or even basic scientific surveys for
>> wetlands or rare plants and wildlife known to occur in the floodplain.
>> Petitioners filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court on August 4,
>> 2016, to compel the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
>> (CAL FIRE) to set aside the agency’s final approval of the “Dogwood”
>> timber harvest plan. California Native Plant Society joined the
>> Petitioners in the lawsuit in September 2016. Acting in the public
>> interest, the three nonprofit environmental groups challenged CAL FIRE’s
>> approval of the unprecedented largescale floodplain redwood logging plan.
>> This plan allows for significant impacts to over 400 acres of Gualala
>> River wetlands, rare plants and endangered wildlife.
>> On January 25, 2017, Judge Chouteau made an unexpected ruling to remand
>> the entire Dogwood THP back to CAL FIRE to comply with the California
>> Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Forest Practices Act (FPA). The
>> Court’s judgment was that CAL FIRE’s approval of Dogwood included a
>> defective cumulative impact analysis that omitted a subsequent foreseeable
>> floodplain logging plan by the same applicant, Gualala Redwoods Timber.
>> This ruling provided CAL FIRE with an opportunity to fully overhaul the
>> incomplete or defective environmental review.
>> CAL FIRE must return to Court to present its progress in late August. In
>> the meantime, on June 27, the Court ruled on Petitioners motion for
>> attorney’s fees. The Court granted Petitioners motion for fees, holding
>> that: “Petitioners enforced an important public right and conferred a
>> significant benefit to the general public by obtaining injunctive relief
>> and proving respondent failed to comply with the requirements under CEQA
>> and the Forest Practice Act.”
>> CAL FIRE chose not contest the June 27 fee award before Judge Chouteau,
>> and the scheduled hearing on fees on June 28 was cancelled. CAL FIRE is,
>> however, contesting some administrative record costs. A subsequent hearing
>> (SCV-259216, Forest Unlimited v. California Department of Forestry and
>> Fire Protection) is scheduled for July 19, 2017.
>> In the meantime, there is still an injunction suspending timber operations
>> in the Dogwood THP area, and public opposition to the plan remains high.
>> For more information:
>> contacts:
>> Peter Baye, Friends of Gualala River,, 415.310.5109
>> Rick Coates, Forest Unlimited,, 707.632.6070
>> Edward Yates, attorney, 415.990.4805

 Wine & Water Watch attended the mentioned hearing with Judge Chouteau. We were shocked at the lack of thoroughness and response from Cal Fire. Judge Chouteau only ruled on a small part of the many problems with the THP (Timber Harvest Plan) submitted. Piece-mealing the project incrementally is illegal in our state. No cumulative impacts were properly presented with several other logging plans in the pipeline including German South. This part of the river has “Scenic River” designation and is next to a pristine park that is used by many. This is a case worth following and supporting! 

Wine & Water Watch supports the preservation of our coastal forests which are important watersheds, habitat corridors and aquifer regeneration sites. Forests on our coast are rich with biodiversity and many threatened species make those forests their homes. Let’s protect them for future generations by supporting Forest Unlimited, Friends of the Gualala River and the Milo Baker chapter of California Native Plant Society who have banded together to fight this disaster for our ravaged coastal resources.

| Updated 16 hours ago.

A disputed 2-year-old plan to log along several miles of the Gualala River floodplain remains in limbo five months after a Sonoma County judge nullified its approval and sent it back to state forestry officials for revision and additional public review.

Acting on a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ruled in January that the 330-acre project was deficient because it failed to account for the cumulative impacts of a different logging plan in development when the proposal at issue was first submitted.

It’s not clear just how much revision of the so-called Dogwood plan submitted by Gualala Redwood Timber will be necessary before it earns a pass from the judge, and there is likely more courtroom action ahead in any case.

“I think everyone expects that this is the first round of litigation,” said Eric Huff, forestry practice chief with Cal Fire, the state forestry agency.

Chouteau’s formal order, filed April 18, gave Cal Fire wide discretion to determine how broadly the Dogwood harvest plan should be reconsidered.

Larkspur attorney Ed Yates, who represents several environmental groups trying to block logging in the floodplain, said it would behoove Gualala Redwood Timber to substantially adjust its plan, given the many objections plaintiffs have lodged against it.

The Dogwood proposal “is legally inadequate in many different areas: plants, endangered species, water quality, climate change, alternatives, mitigations,” Yates said. 

“We think there’s an enormous amount wrong with it,” he said. “The judge didn’t rule on any of that, but if Cal Fire doesn’t fix any of that … then we will continue to litigate the other items, as well.”

Huff said it should be enough for the logging company to amend and recirculate only the cumulative impacts section of its proposal, though he acknowledged the company could decide to broaden its scope.

“It’s up to them,” Huff said. “They could withdraw the plan and never go back there … But from our perspective, if they deal with the one issue as they should, then that’s all they really need to address, unless we find something else.”

GRT Forest Manager Charll Stoneman said the failure of the Dogwood plan to make reference to the other forthcoming proposal, called German South, was because of the fact that the former landowners made that application before the second plan was fully formed. Failure to include it later was an oversight during the transition, he said.

Instead, the property was sold to the Roger Burch family, which formed Gualala Redwood Timber, and proceeded with harvest plans initiated by the former owner. The project covers an area logged in the past and includes stands of large second-growth redwood trees, some of which are a century old.

The state granted approval for the Dogwood plan last July and logging began weeks later. A group that included Forests Unlimited, Friends of the Gualala River and the California Native Plant Society sued Cal Fire for approving what they said was a deficient plan.