Courtesy bancroft library
LUSH LIFE: A Bohemian Club member known only as Paul poses before a mammoth old-growth tree back at the turn of the last century.
After nearly three years of wrangling and a truly massive amount of paperwork, on March 30 the Bohemian Club received a favorable recommendation on a proposed perpetual logging plan for its Russian River forestland.
The conditional approval by the California Department of Forestry (Cal Fire) and other state agencies "was a foregone conclusion and comes as no surprise," says John Hooper, a former Bohemian Club member who founded the nonprofit SaveBohemianGrove.com. While club representatives assert that specific contested issues have been addressed in their revised plan, Hooper vows that he and other environmentalists will continue to fight the club's logging plans.
Before the Bohemian Club can get final approval, it must address a few remaining mitigation actions requested by state agencies and respond to any new information or issues submitted as written public comment by 5pm on Monday, May 11. That public comment deadline is the mandated 45 days from March 25, when Cal Fire officially posted the more than 450-page document that is the Bohemian Club's revised NTMP application.
That's a lot of pages to wade through to be able to make a cogent comment, but there's a lot at stake. The Bohemian Club owns the 2,700-acre Bohemian Grove, prime forestland that's home to rare old-growth redwoods, second-growth redwoods that have stood undisturbed for more than 100 years and towering Douglas firs, plus tanoaks and other less lofty flora.
The club began logging in the 1980s, cutting about 500,000 board-feet of timber each year, for a cumulative total estimated at 10 million to 11 million board-feet. As reported previously in these pages (July 4, 2007), in May 2006 the club applied for a non-industrial timber management plan (NTMP) that would let it harvest a set amount of timber each year in perpetuity. Once the NTMP is approved, the club will be able to log with minimal oversight and without additional public hearings.
Club representatives say expanded logging is needed to reduce a high fire risk and restore a forest that was deeply disturbed by clear-cutting more than a century ago; they'll use the money from the timber harvests to pay for these efforts. Opponents argue that the amount the club wants to log each year—700,000 to 1.6 million board-feet annually in the revised plan—is excessive, and that precious natural resources will be irrevocably harmed if the NTMP is approved and carried out.
It's a clash of individual property owners' rights to manage their property as they choose versus the community's interest in preserving rare and potentially fragile resources.
One controversy in the NTMP approval process centers around exactly how many forested acres the Bohemian Club owns, since NTMPs are limited to 2,500 acres or less (nonforested acres don't count). The club recently finalized a 163-acre easement with a conservation foundation, prohibiting logging in some of the old-growth redwood stands. The only tree-cutting allowed in those areas would be for safety reasons and, except when there's immediate danger, would have to be preapproved by the foundation.
"The idea in these areas is to allow the current activity, which is recreational," says Nick Kent, the registered professional forester who is handling the NTMP application for the Bohemian Club.
With the donation of the easement, the amount of forested land covered by the NTMP dropped to about 2,300 acres. Ron Pape, who's leading the NTMP approval process for Cal Fire, says what's key is how many total acres of timber are available for harvest. The easement protects old-growth trees and makes it clear that the NTMP covers less than 2,500 acres.
"Our legal staff has researched it, and they feel the conservation easement is appropriate," Pape explains.
Jay Holcomb, chairman of the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter, has concerns about NTMPs in general. They're a two-edged sword, Holcomb says. They do give small landowners guidance about good forestry practices, but they have no revision or renewal process. A growing number of property owners are applying for an NTMP instead of having a timber harvest plan approved for each logging operation.
"Once [NTMPs are] set in place, there's no mechanism or incentive for the landowner to adopt new forestry rules that come into place," Holcomb says. He notes that what is considered good forestry practice right now might not be good 25 to 50 or even 10 years from now.
And he questions the Bohemian Club's assertion that it needs to harvest trees to pay for fire-prevention measures.
"We would hope that the Bohemian Club of all people could afford to do more restoration work on their own dime rather than trying to fund it with the sale of wood."
Public comments on the Bohemian Club's revised NTMP application must be submitted in writing and should be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to Attn: Forest Practice, Cal Fire Northern Regional Headquarters Santa Rosa, 135 Ridgway Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95401.