Willow Creek Logging Suit Denied:

Judge Cites Procedural Errors

by Franci Gallegos

A Sonoma County Superior Court judge has denied, on grounds of procedural errors, a preliminary injunction to a group of environmentalists who charge that Mendocino Redwoods Company and the California Dept. of Forestry are failing to protect coho salmon habitat and are violating state laws requiring cumulative impact analysis.

The Western Watershed Alliance (WWA) filed suit for an order staying the CDF's approval of a timber harvest plan (THP 1-99-100Son) on the Willow Creek watershed in western Sonoma County. Mendocino Redwoods Co. (MRC) purchased over 5000 acres of the Willow Creek property from Louisiana-Pacific less than a year ago and has applied for two THPS that encompass 442 acres of redwoods and douglas fir. The company claims that it is preparing more logging plans for the area.

The WWA lawsuit states that the land has been seriously degraded by previous loggings ---13 in the past decade--- and that neither MRC or CDF have taken into account the cumulative impacts of past or future logging in the area.

It also challenges CDF's interpretation of the Forest Practice Rules on cumulative impact, stating that "The current condition of most of California╠s watersheds show, in no uncertain terms, that CDF's implementation of the Forest Practice Rules is no guarantee of legally-mandated environmental protection. The current condition of California's watersheds and fisheries, in fact, leads to the opposite conclusion".

Willow Creek is known habitat for coho but has been seriously damaged by siltation in its lower region, which is owned by State Parks. Erosion from previous cuts, logging roads, and stream crossings have impacted the watercourse. MRC proposes to repair some of the 56 crossings and reopened skid roads it will use in the current logging plan. The company claims that it is mitigating the erosion that will be created by its proposed logging by correcting some of the erosion problems caused by its predecessor, Louisiana-Pacific.

But plaintiffs' attorney Kimberly Burr, a member of the Northern California Environmental Defense Center, says, "MRC's position is that the roads won't get fixed unless they can log. This position contradicts the message they would like the public to embrace. A company supposedly dedicated to the environment and responsible stewardship would not allow their bad roads to continue to adversely impact this watershed, whether they could log or not."

Timber activist Helen Libeu and Jay Halcomb of Russian River Residents Against Unsafe Logging (RRRAUL) both filed declarations in favor of the THP. Libeu states, "I consider 1-99-100Son the best THP I have reviewed in Sonoma County in the past two years."

In her declaration, she acknowledges "roads, landings, and culverts are well known to be major sources of sedimentation" and says she believes MRC╠s mitigation measures "are likely to be effective in solving long standing sedimentation problems associated with this plan area."

Libeu adds a caveat to her support of MRC's logging plan. "Logging, no matter how benign, always will cause certain kinds of sedimentation."

Superior Court Judge Laurence Sawyer's decision was based on a procedural error by the plaintiffs. This entailed an incomplete administrative record submitted to the judge.

Burr says that the case was not denied on its merits and that the WWA only lost the request for an injunction that would have prevented MRC from logging before a full hearing could be held. WWA is discussing what further legal actions they can pursue.

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