Felta Creek

Landowner has 10 days to appeal

On Sept. 1 friends of Felta Creek, both the official group and other casual acquaintances, received good news regarding the future of the watershed. The Timber Harvest Plan (THP) for the area known as Fox Meadow has been denied by CalFire.

The fight over Fox Meadow has been going on since 2017 when the landowner filed a proposal to harvest the 160-acre timber parcel. In an article written at the time, The Healdsburg Tribune noted the challenging history of the landowner.

“That landowner is Ken Bareilles, an attorney out of Eureka with a colored environmental history. In 2010, Bareilles was found guilty of illegally selling 32 parcels on Titlow Hill in Humboldt County. Two years later he was convicted of violation of his felony probation. As reported by Outdoor News, Bareilles was found guilty of probation violations after California Department of Fish and Game found numerous land use violations impacting fish and wildlife, including a tributary to Redwood Creek, in Humboldt County, a designated critical habitat for steelhead trout.”

The THP as originally proposed, was “labeled 1-17-017SON and nicknamed ‘Fox Meadow’ by CalFire, the agency in charge of approving such plans, aims to manage the 160 acres zoned for timberland harvest production by harvesting 146 acres in three units; 51 acres will be harvested using transition harvesting, 79 acres will undergo group selection harvesting and 16 acres will be harvested using single selection silvicultural methods,” according to the 2017 article.

It was in response to this first petition the Friends of Felta Creek was formed. Friends of Felta Creek is a community organization “dedicated to protecting and enhancing the habitat, forest, infrastructure and community of the Felta Creek Watershed and its adjacent road systems.” Felta Creek is one of the last ecosystems in Sonoma County that is home to wild Coho salmon.

The group was formed from neighbors and concerned community members who came together in 2017 to defend the watershed from the THP. In 2018 they won a lawsuit against CalFire for approving a draft of the plan. It operates as a non-profit with fiscal sponsorship from Forest Unlimited a 501(c) 3. The advisory board includes: Forest Unlimited, Russian Riverkeeper, Dan and Quincey Imhoff and Lucy Kotter.

The proposed THP wound its way through the approval process, and on May 14 of this year, CalFire recommended approving the plan, stating “They found no significant unmitigated cumulative impacts and that the plan is in conformance with the Act and the Rules of the Board of Forestry.”

During the comment period which ran through May 24, Friends of Felta Creek submitted hundreds of pages of public records detailing the violation-filled past of the applicant, from agencies such as North Coast Water Quality Control Board, Fish and Wildlife, CalFire and the County of Humboldt.

On July 30, CalFire “extended the Director's Decision Deadline, to Aug. 31, 2020,” according to a statement from the Friends of Felta Creek. “It is our understanding that it is due in part to the high level of expert studies and public input that must be addressed and responded to. Theoretically, if you submitted a public comment, you should be receiving an email response from CalFire when and if they approve the plan. Stay tuned. We are monitoring things as closely as we can and poised to defend the watershed.”

CalFire did not take action on Aug. 31, likely because of the massive lightning spawned fires devouring the state, including the Walbridge Fire which burned through Fox Meadow (see sidebar).

On Sept. 1, Dominik Schwab, the Coast Resource Manager for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection sent a letter to Bareilles denying the THP.

“The deadline for determining whether (the THP) was in conformance with the Forest Practice Rules was Aug. 31, 2020, I requested an extension to the deadline from the plan-preparing Registered Professional Forester Randall Jacobszoon, who represents you. The extension was requested in order to respond to 85 public comments that had been received concerning the timber operations proposed in the THP. (By law), the department is required to respond in writing to any issues raised when determining whether a plan is in comformance with the Forest Practice Rules, priori to approving a THP,” reads the letter.

“Today, Sept. 1, Mr. Jacobszoon replied to the extension request stating that ‘the landowners have decided not to extend the Director’s Decision Date for approval of the (THP) for an additional 30 days.’ A mutually agreed upon extension to the (deadline) could not be reached,” it continues.

The letter had attached the latest draft of the THP containing all the revision made to date, however it was unsigned by the director.

“This THP is considered denied,” the letter states. “Timber operations proposed under (the THP) are not approved and shall not commence.”

According to the letter, Bareilles has the right to request a public hearing with in 10 days of receiving the letter and appealing the decision. While the letter was dated Sept. 1, it is unknown what the receipt date is, though likely the 10-day deadline will be up soon. The Friends of Felta Creek also stated they believe the THP can be resubmitted for consideration or an exemption or emergency notice may be applied for.

Whatever happens next the Friends of Felta Creek is committed to keeping a watch on next steps. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates.”

Friends of Felta Creek can be found at friendsoffeltacreek.org.

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