The Friends of The Old Trees Win!

High Court decision sets CEQA
precedent for timber harvests!

by Stephanie Hiller
{ Reprinted from The Bodega Bay Navigator... 6/1-7/97 }
( so far I don't have permission... oh well... )
In a precedent-setting decision last week, the state Supreme Court voted to uphold the lower court's ruling that the Van Alstyne plan to harvest Old Growth Redwoods was faulty because the environmental review process was inadequate.

The historic decision is a major victory for Occidental's Friends of The Old Trees, an ad hoc organization which came into existence in 1994 to save the grove, which contains some of the oldest redwoods on private property in West Sonoma County.

But what may be more significant is that the couret confirms its decision that the California Environmental Qualityu Act (CEQA) does apply to timber harvest plans, contrary to what has been the preferred policy of The Callifornia Department of Forestry (CDF).

CDF and the Van Alstyne's had taken the case to the Supreme Court to ask them to review the lower courts ruling. What that means, said Paul Carrol, attorney for The Friends, is that :when the Supreme Court depublishes it, it wipes is off the face of the planet so it cannot be used as a legal precedent in other cases."

The Court's decision was not to review the case, and not to depublish the former decision, affirming that CEQA guidelines must be followed in timber harvest plans and options to cutting the trees must be continued.

The Van Alstyne THP, which CDF approved, did not consider other options. Nor did it take into account the 'fog-drip phenomen" by which tredwood trees actually raise the water table by attracting water from fog to settle on the ground.

But what is more significant, said Gary Carmignani, an organizing member of The Friends of The Old Trees. "It challenges the modified THP, and it makes alternatives a choice in the timber harvest review process." Now, logging fewer trees, or not logging at all, can be proposed as alternatives to the harvest plan offered.

The Van Alstyne's are now enjoined not to log the treees until a proper EIR can be conducted. Of course they have the option of preparing another THP and starting the permit application process all over again.

"We still need the Van Alstyne's to approach The Open Space District, which had offered to buy the property to preserve the trees.

"The money is still available," Carmignani said.

Said Bill Wheeler on behalf of Friends of The Old Trees, "We're pleased with the opinion, but we'll be a lot more pleased when the trees are saved, and we truly hope the Van Alstynes will negotiate in good faith to preserve the trees.

Over a million dollars has been offered to preserve the 30-acre grove, which is more than what the Van Alstynes can get for the lumber taken in the first of three proposed logging maneuvers over a period of 30 years, "and who knows what the logging rules will be like 10 or 20 years from now?" asked Carmignani.

The Open Space proposal would allow the Van Alstynes to continue to own the land but place the trees in public ownership in perpetuity.

The land is well-suited to become a park because it is flat and very accessible for educational groups and handicapped visitors as well as the general public. Wheeler pointed out.

"I certainly hope that something can be properly and happily worked out between the parties," said Paul Carrol.

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