Logging on the Gualala River was halted again last week when a judge ruled in favor of the Friends of the Gualala River and against Cal Fire, the state’s forestry agency.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau halted the planned timber harvest while a legal clash continues over potential environmental damage from the Gualala Redwood Timber (GRT) company’s plan to selectively log about 350 acres of mature redwoods on its property known as “Dogwood.”
The Dogwood logging plan “is distinguished by the unprecedented extent of logging over hundreds of acres along miles of floodplains that include special habitats for steelhead, salmon, and protected rare plants, wetlands, and wildlife,” said Friends of the Gualala Redwoods in a media announcement of the court decision. It “also contains some of the largest, oldest and most mature redwood stands left in the Gualala River flats.”
Chouteau’s decision marks the second time in two years that Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR) has won a court order to halt GRT logging in the 100-year-old forest near the Gualala River estuary.
Two years ago Friends of Gualala River, Forest Unlimited, and the California Native Plant Society prevailed in a lawsuit against Cal Fire’s approval of GRT’s first Dogwood logging plan.
The first Cal Fire permit was vacated last year after Chouteau ruled that, in approving the timber harvest plan, Cal Fire had violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Chouteau gave Cal Fire the opportunity to fix and resubmit the logging plan to comply with CEQA. GRT submitted an amended version of the plan late last year.
Friends of Gualala again sued Cal Fire over the new plan, alleging it had “essentially the same CEQA and Forest Practices Act violations that it found in the first version of the plan,” said the group’s attorney Edward Yates.
Yates filed a new motion for a preliminary injunction last month “so that the status quo would be preserved, and logging would not proceed during the lawsuit,” said FoGR’s announcement. “The court agreed that logging would cause an imminent threat of irreparable injury,” and found that FoGR demonstrated “sufficient likelihood of success with evidence showing possible defects in the environmental analysis of the logging plan.”
Gualala Redwood Timber’s current law firm, Baker Botts LLC, strenuously opposed the latest preliminary injunction, arguing that the revised timber harvest plan sufficiently analyzed the environmental impacts. The GRT attorneys also said FoGR failed to show there would be irreparable environmental harm if the logging were allowed.
The judge disagreed and dismissed GRT’s objections.
The logging site, near the Gualala River estuary and Gualala Point Regional Park, is part of more than 26,000 acres acquired three years ago by GRT from timber operator Roger Burch of Redwood Empire sawmills in Cloverdale and Philo. The Burch family also owns Russian River timberland in Guerneville on Neeley Road.
GRT attorneys have argued that the company’s timber harvest plans have been extensively reviewed and are environmentally sound and the injunction would damage the timber company by causing the closure of sawmills and loss of lumber jobs in Marin and Sonoma counties.
Both companies, Gualala Timber and Redwood Empire, are part of a larger company, Pacific States Industries, with ample sources of timber, said Chouteau’s ruling. “This indicates that the real party in interest [GRT] is not in danger of going out of business should the court issue the injunction, only that it may not be able to make as much profit as it could as soon as it would like. It is also monetary injury and not ‘irreparable,’ in contrast to the environmental destruction that the project would cause,” said Chouteau. “This cannot override the injury threat to the public and environment.”
Chouteau also rejected GRT attorneys’ request that FoGR should be required to post a bond of more than $26,000 per month to cover potential money losses to GRT and Redwood Empire. The judge required that FofGR needs to post a nominal $500 bond.