People Power Stops Forestville Timber Harvest

Sonoma County Gazette, "People Power STOPS Forestville Timber Harvest", October 30, 2012

By David Herr, with authoritative source on permits for logging, Jeff Rebischung, owner of Fine Tree Care

* This is article inspired a 2nd on Tree Removal Laws for Your Property

Sonoma County & California Laws that we ran in the December edition. When I researched that story, I asked Jeff Rebischung (a Gazette advertiser) about the laws on small timber harvests, since he is a Licensed Timber Operator. In talking with Kimberly Sone, the CalFire Division Chief who is responsible for inspecting those jobs (and subsequently stopped them when violations occurred), she told me that Fine Tree Care is regarded as an authority on this subject. Jeff wrote a very detailed version of the article, filled with laws and legal language, which I translated.

Most people feel helpless when it comes to impacting the outcome of an event. Yet they DO have influence, and they CAN effect change. What it takes is having enough people to be heard - and solid information to gain respect..

We changed the outcome of a tree removal in my neighborhood by contacting people who had the power to stop the operation before long-term permanent damage occurred. In the process, we learned that laws and systems in place are not enough, and that oversight is essential to protect our environment from ignorance.

Our Back Yard

River Drive is a small neighborhood at Hacienda Bridge in Forestville. What we came to call the “Hacienda Timber Harvest,” without intervention, would have been a redwood clear-cut on two lots going down to the river on both sides of Hacienda Bridge. This brought many in our neighborhood and community together in outrage over what Clear View tree service was doing with a Cal Fire “exemption” permit and little oversight.

How did this happen?

How could a timber harvest occur along the banks of the Russian River, which has been designated critical habitat for three species of salmon? How could this be permitted when multiple agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars on studies alone to save the fish and their habitat?

Redwood trees that have been trimmed for harvest

Both lots were recently purchased by out-of-area owners…people who don’t live here, or intend to live here…and who appear to be ignorant of local environmental protections. Both have applications to raise these original summer cabins along the river using FEMA flood mitigation assistance funds. Both contacted Clear View tree service to remove a few trees they considered a fire hazard, and in their way of intended construction.

Jason Winamaki, owner of Clear View, has operated a tree service in the area for some time, and recently obtained certification to be a “Licensed Timber Operator” (LTO). He told at least one of the owners that harvesting their redwoods would pay for the tree work they originally wanted.

This could be accomplished by obtaining a “timber harvest permit exemption” from Cal Fire, the agency responsible for monitoring tree removal that involves selling the trees for lumber. CalFire considers this riverfront neighborhood of small lots “Timberland” because of the number of trees in the area. This “grey area” in the law attempts to cover home-owner fire prevention needs on forested land.

Alarmed Neighbors

When we saw the number of trees stripped of their branches, calls and emails went out to Permit Resource Management Dept. (PRMD), North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Fish and Game (F&G), and the Gazette for media oversight.

All agency responses were sympathetic to saving the trees on the river, but none had jurisdiction to intervene. F&G said they were limited to oversight when stumps were removed along the river bank that might cause erosion (this was disappointing as F&G had previously cited property owners for cutting trees on the river).

How was it stopped?

Community input, persistence, and response from Kimberly Sone, the Forester at Cal Fire who had permitted the tree removal project by designating it a timber harvest with an exemption for structural fire protection, changed this job.

When I called Cal Fire to get information and express my opinion about what was happening, I learned that Kimberly Sone had received numerous similar calls. When I called Forest Unlimited for help, I found they were already at the sites taking pictures. When I called Vesta of the Gazette, she was soon at my door, and we took more pictures to document what was happening, and sent emails out to more agencies to get their attention.

We needed someone who understood laws to evaluate what we might accomplish, so Vesta contacted Jeff Rebischung of Fine Tree Care to evaluate both sites. Jeff is a very knowledgeable and experienced LTO, and pointed out several violations that were in progress. This gave us the language of the law we needed to gain credibility to our request for intervention. The most important is that there are specific laws pertaining to cutting trees within 150’ of our river, and this timber harvest was violating those laws because many of the tress are in what is called a Watercourse Protection Zone.

On October 22nd I was able to meet Kimberly Sone at the sites. She told me that Jason Winamaki had been told that further removal of trees would be a violation of watercourse practices. Due to community input, she increased her oversight of this timber harvest, and ultimately stopped the harvest within the watercourse protection zone. Additional review of the damage is pending.

The remaining redwoods, stripped and topped in preparation for removal, will regrow limbs, and in time, once again provide shade for our river and fish. However, these trees will need more maintenance as time goes on than if they were never limbed.

Where do we go from here…

Hopefully our river advocacy groups, and a well-informed community that cares about our river, endangered fish and the riparian trees, can motivate our board of supervisors to implement new rules to eliminate the cutting of ecologically necessary trees in the riparian corridor. At present there are loopholes in protection for riparian trees large enough to drive a logging truck through.

Thanks to community input, this project ended with a partial victory. It proves to us that we can protect our home, and that agencies can be responsive. We need to pay more attention so that all agencies are on the same page, timber operators are aware of, and respectful of our laws, and that we still have more work to do to protect our watershed.

 the logged and stacked trees waiting to go to a lumber mill.

Above are the logged and stacked trees waiting to go to a lumber mill. These trees came down, but the trees along the river bank remain to protect the river, fish, and our homes.

"We love our retirement home in Sebastopol. It's a constant source of work with over 40 years of neglect. This includes an overplanting of what were once likely little tree sticks in gallon cans. We decided to start with now mature (and dangerous) Monterey pines, never once pruned. One eased over in last winter's storms, nicking the corner of our house, and giving us a warning that we needed to do something to them all, and fast.

Fine Tree Care to the rescue! Shawn spent over an hour assessing "The Big Six," all well over 50 feet, and now in various states of health. Rather than removal, we arrived at a compromise to top the four least healthy to keep them away from structures should they fall, and to open up the two healthiest to allow stormy winds to pass through. I was awestruck the entire day watching the crew: working from the bucket, to scaling tree tops to reduce the trunks. There is a lot of high energy in the air as they accomplish their incredibly dangerous jobs! From first cut to final cleanup you will be served by a highly skilled and professional team. There is a lot of liability in big tree work and these guys know what they're doing. And branches are not just removed, your trees will be sculpted. Take my advice: Don't bother with other estimates. Just hire Fine Tree Care." ~ Donald G., Sebastopol CA