Felta Creek

COVETED FOR COHO — Felta Creek is a natural wild Coho salmon habitat and has received millions of state and county dollars for restoration and enhancement. Environmentalists, community members and government officials worry a proposed timber harvest plan in the area places the species at risk. Photo provided

Landowner, lack of mitigation measures concern community

A timber harvest plan that describes a plan to cut 146 acres of timberland three miles southwest of Healdsburg near Felta Creek has community members and government officials alike concerned about public safety and potential environmental damage to the Creek, a known critical habitat to the endangered Coho salmon.

The THP, labeled 1-17-017SON and nicknamed “Fox Meadow” by Cal Fire, 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 THP, the landowner intends to manage, grow and harvest high quality saw timber from the land. The landowner needs the revenue in order to fund road maintenance and upgrading projects to maintain and stabilize practical land management.

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 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.

According to Cal Fire, there is no provision of the Forest Practice Act that would allow Cal Fire to, “examine an applicant’s prior record of violations and discriminate accordingly.”

Randy Jacobszoon, the registered professional forester (RPF) on the Fox Meadow project said Bareilles would not be involved with the harvesting.

“He’ll have very little input on the logging of the property,” Jacobszoon said.

Jacobszoon acknowledged the public concern about the project and said that, as the forester on the project, he is taking note of and implementing remediation plans to address concerns.

One major concern is the use of Felta Creek Road, a private, single-lane, one-way road that neighbors and opponents say cannot take the wear and tear of heavy logging trucks. Furthermore, the road is the only access point for Westside Elementary School.

“Felta Creek Road is a rural, windy, narrow private country road maintained by neighbors,” Senator Mike McGuire wrote in a letter to Ken Pimlott, chief of Cal Fire. “It was never meant to support the weight, length and numerous logging truck trips. The road represents the only way out for residents and it’s home to Westside Elementary School.”

The road is also the only access point to the timber harvesting site, Jacobszoon said.

For the harvest, they plan on using a pilot car to lead logging trucks in and out of the site.

“We’ll limit the hours of driving so there aren’t conflicts with students and parents,” Jacobszoon added.

Because of the nature of the THP, the forester will need to construct a road from the site’s entrance to the top of the south ridge in order to access the timber. Neighbors, including Nick and Kristen Broderick of Green Pastures Valley, are concerned the new road would, “involve moving thousands of yards of soil and stockpiling it somewhere on his land, increasing the chances of it finding its way into the Felta Creek as sediment.”

Cal Fire officials said the plan requires roads, “adequately surfaced and designed for permanent, year-round use,” because harvesting will occur throughout the winter.

Pursuant to Forest Practice Rules, all exposed road surfaces and fill material located near watercourse crossings must be stabilized.

Addressing concerns of driving dust and potential health risks to the neighbors and school children, Jacobzsoon said they plan to administer dust abatement techniques, such as watering the roadway or spraying an anti-dust material on the road.

“It’s the same stuff wineries use,” he said.

Should they use water, it would not be pumped from Felta Creek. The creek is a natural wild Coho salmon habitat, which has received millions of state and county dollars for restoration and enhancement. The creek is monitored as a critical control stream, as it is the only Dry Creek watershed that maintains a wild Coho salmon run not stocked by UC San Diego’s Coho Salmon Conservation Program. While potential new sediment can increase water temperature beyond conditions ripe for Coho salmon survivability, a reduced canopy also puts the fish at risk.

According to a 2013 Mill Creek Management Plan, only a small portion of the forest in the area remains as old growth habitat and stream habitat for fish has since been degraded. The THP proposes harvesting 91 percent of the available acreage, potentially putting the salmon at increased risk.

Nevertheless, Cal Fire maintains the 14 acres of “no-harvest” will “maintain a diverse forested landscape upon completion of logging operations,” for both the creek and forest wildlife.

Cal Fire’s next step is to review and respond to all public input by Friday, July 14. The agency will also need to consider recommendations and mitigation measures of other agencies, such as NOAA or CDFW before determining it the plan is in conformance with the Forest Practice Act and Rules.

According to Cal Fire agents, “the plan is currently under review for consistency with the Forest Practice Act and Rules and preparation of the official response is now underway.”

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