Mendocino Redwoods THP #...136 Analysis

By The Western Watershed Alliance

Mr. Roger Thompson
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection›
135 Ridgeway Avenue
Santa Rosa CA 95401
Re: THP 1-99-136 SON

Dear Mr. Thompson:

Once again the Western Watershed Alliance must oppose Mendocino Redwood CompanyGs plans to harvest timber in the Willow Creek watershed. Neither the referenced THP nor its companion 1-99-100 SON meets the mandate of the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, or that of the Forest Practice Act of 1973, or that of the California Endangered Species Act: l. . . to lessen or avoid the significant adverse impacts that the activity may have on the environmentn (CPR896 [a]).›

BACKGROUND

Willow Creek is a tributary of the Russian River, which is listed under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act as impacted by sediment. Recent studies show Willow Creek itself as being l. . . severely compromised by sedimentation problems and dramatic channel aggradation. . . .n (Sediment Production Estimates and Restoration Concepts for the Willow Creek Watershed, Trihey & Associates, 1997). The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have stated that lCalifornia waters currently experience significant impacts from forestry. For example, silviculture is the leading source of impairment to water quality in the north coast of Californian (EPA/NOAA final findings pursuant to Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Act). The final rules that established coho salmon as a threatened species in California identify logging and associated operations as primary causes of both damage to coho salmon habitat and the speciesG decline.

Habitat for the coho and steelhead has been severely compromised in the Willow Creek watershed. A Department of Fish & Game inventory conducted during 1994-1995 found five steelhead upstream of State Parks property and no coho where found. Only one juvenile coho has been observed since 1990 in the watershed (Trihey & Assoc., 1997). Clearly, this watershed is a system under stress.

GOVERNING REGULATION
As a direct result of the above, the coho has been listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The ESA prohibits all activities that cause a ltaken of a threatened species, including those which impair coho salmon spawning, breeding and rearing habitat (CCR 895.1).

Congress intended the term "taken" to be defined in the broadest possible manner to include every conceivable way in which a person could harm or kill fish or wildlife (S.Rep. No.307, 93rd Cong. & Admin. News 2989, 2995). "Taken" includes "harm" to a listed species, and the Secretary of the Interior has defined "harm" as ". . . an act which actually kills or injures wildlife. Such an act may include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering" ( 50 C.F.R.Ŗ17.3 1994 and Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Communities for a Great Oregon, 115S.Ct. at 2412-14).

In the words of CDF, ". . . a determination has not been made as to whether conformance with the Forest Practice Rules will sufficiently protect the coho." In fact, two recent studies attest that they will not. The first is the report of former Governor Wilson's independent five-member panel in cooperation with NMFS which states that current logging regulations are inadequate to insure protection of salmon in Northern California rivers and streams. It suggests that logging be curbed in specific watersheds until studies of impacts on salmon habitat can be done and their recommendations implemented. The second is the report of U.S. Forest Service scientist Dr. Leslie Reid, released on 24 May, 1999. Her report states, in part, that as currently implemented the California Forest Practice Rules have not prevented the cumulative watershed impacts that led to the recent listing of multiple Northern California streams as impaired by sediment. Specifically pertinent to Willow Creek is the suggested implementation of provisions in the Forest Practice Rules to: A). Allow regulation of the rate of logging in a watershed, and B). Improve cumulative impact assessment methods, such as a provision for a preliminary watershed assessment identifying issues of concern and the causes.

In light of the above, and given the state of this watershed, it is incumbent on the applicant to at least follow the letter of the current rules, as inadequate as they may be. As we examine this THP, we will see how well it meets this legal mandate.›

EVALUATION OF THP 136
While acknowledging the impaired state of the watershed, the applicant's primary premise is that the proposed remedial actions will somehow offset the predicted increase in sedimentation from logging operations. On page 43 they state, "Following the short-term increase in sedimentation associated with harvesting, the implementation of the standard Forest Practice Rules, and the road improvements designed within the THP, should reduce the potential for point source sediment discharge." If we look to Section II of the THP for a quantitative assessment to back up this assertion, we do not find it. Instead we see a long list of detailed mitigation measures which, however worthy in themselves, do not allow us to measure them against the soil disruption caused by the timber operations.

Even though there will be considerable disruption from opening old skid trails, grading roads, and operations on slopes up to 55%, there is very little mention and no detail regarding the impact this will have on stream siltation. Nowhere in his geology report does Thomas Spittler imply that the mitigations proposed, or his recommendations for that matter, will offset the potential for increased sedimentation from logging operations. Mark Neely of Water Quality, while noting the poor condition of the stream, does not suggest that the mitigation measures will have any measurable effect in the foreseeable future.

Question 16 (attachment A) of Review Team Questions has not been answered by the RPF. This question has not been answered anywhere in the THP. It is the non-answer to this question that emphasizes the need to deny this THP and to prohibit entry into this watershed until this question can be answered. Without this answer Mendocino Redwood Company cannot assure that there will not be unmitigated cumulative impacts from this operation. Without this assurance THP 136 will be in violation of CEQA and the Endangered Species Act.

There is simply not enough information on the very real potential for this timber harvest to exacerbate the serious problems affecting the Willow Creek watershed. The process must be turned around. Strategies for stream restoration must dictate what level of timber operations the watershed can withstand, not the reverse, where the harvest is established first then mitigations added to minimize impact.

WHAT IS NEEDED
Unfortunately, there is a vacuum of reliable data on which to base a restoration plan for Willow Creek. This is precisely why these two THPs cannot be supported or justified or massaged by mitigations into being benign impacts on the watershed. They are premature and contra-indicated given the precarious state of the watershed. Here is what is needed in Willow Creek: A Sustained Yield Plan for the whole watershed as a prerequisite for timber harvesting. NMFS has jurisdiction over endangered species of fish. Neither they nor Fish & Game have been a part of either review team. In light of the very precarious survival prospects for anadromous fish in Willow Creek, this input would seem a prerequisite to approving either THP. Thomas Spittler in his report recommends that a watershed analysis for the Willow Creek drainage will be needed to direct watershed management and restoration activities. In the meantime, a full EIR is probably the only process which will bring these two THPs into conformance with the original intent of the State Board of Forestry ` to deny any THP that fails to adopt feasible mitigation measures or alternatives that would avoid serious effects to the environment.

The above discussion would strongly indicate that there is no basis to call the No Project Alternativen (page 22) inferior to the project as described in the THP.

CONCLUSION
It has been documented that the Willow Creek watershed is under stress and severely compromised as habitat for endangered species. lA designated impaired watershed must be recognized to already be under cumulative impacts, so that the standard for compliance with regulations is necessarily different. Where a compromised ecosystem exists, any additional contribution of sediment above naturally occurring background rates contributes to an already significant cumulative impactn (Reid, 1999). In fact, the acknowledged lshort-term increase in sedimentationn is itself a potentially damaging cumulative impact which is not mentioned or quantified. Under the definition of cumulative impact, any additional stress is illegal. To avoid having to prepare an EIR it must be shown that the effects are being mitigated to a point where clearly (emphasis added) no significant effect on the environment would occur.

The Western Watershed Alliance is committed to reversing the trend of abuse that has resulted from many years of under-regulated resource extraction from the Willow Creek watershed. We will support any plan that can show a reasonable probability of harvesting timber without negatively impacting this watershed, and one that will truly implement a viable restoration plan.

Respectfully,

Pieter S. Myers,
for the Western Watershed Alliance

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