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Colorful Protest of Tunnels Under Ancient Trees

John Cruz

Many friends of the ancient trees and their ecosystem visited Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve on Sunday, May 4 to protest the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s proposed water system developments there. After they learned of threats to the redwoods from new water wells, surface trenching, and underground tunneling among the trees in the natural reserve, local citizens joined together and visited the woods to express their concerns.

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The weather was beautiful, the trees were majestic and the park employees were very helpful making sure everyone found the correct trails. Everyone was enthusiastic about having an opportunity to do something to protect the forest and people exchanged stories with each other about how the woods were part of their lives.

Guerneville resident, Linda Lucey stated, “The regulations posted at the entrance to this grove state, natural scenery, plants, and animal life are the principal attractions of most state parks.  They are integral parts of the ecosystem and natural community. As such, they are protected by Federal, State and Park laws. Disturbance or destruction of these resources is strictly forbidden.”

“We respectfully refrain from disturbing even a twig in this reserve,” Lucey further stated.  “Why doesn’t State Parks follow the same Federal, State, and Park laws that we follow? Do the benefits of more water for visitors outweigh the risks of harm to the old growth ecosystem the visitors come to see?  How much is this project going to cost us taxpayers?  Why won’t State Parks hold a scoping session so we can understand exactly what is going on?”

Protesters handed out informational flyers at the visitors center and then, walked quietly through the beautiful redwood grove, some dressed as large trees. Their object was to draw attention to what until recently some say have been the very closely held development plans of State Parks.  Many people from the local community, including members of Forest Unlimited, participated in the event. Everyone shared serious concerns about the impacts that State Park’s plans will have on this delicate and now rare ecosystem. All the park visitors encountered by the participants in the protest expressed interest in learning more about the state’s plans and were very supportive of protecting the Natural Reserve.

Two groups walked from the visitors center parking lot through the grove to the picnic area, one following the road and the other the trail. Looking up, walkers could easily spot numerous old growth trees with spike tops and thinning foliage, signs of stress caused by interruption of their usual water supply by human activities.

The existing pipeline, which is mostly above ground and has minimal impact on the forest, was observed in a number of places. The narrow winding roads through the park would plainly have trouble accommodating large construction equipment, especially where it is flanked in spots by pairs of massive old growth trees only about 10′ apart. The road surface and roots under the road would also likely be damaged by construction equipment which can weigh as much as 30 tons.

Recently the California Department of Parks and Recreation  postponed any work at Armstrong Woods until September 2015.  However the reserve has already been disturbed by the project.  State Parks authorized the drilling of a new water well at the back of the reserve in December 2013.  Testing of that well will likely commence shortly, causing further disturbances in the reserve.

Meanwhile the public continues to request a scoping session which is a public meeting held early in the review process during which the community and the agency share information and collaborate on alternatives.  A scoping session provides a forum for full disclosure and dialogue with the agency, enabling citizens to fully exercise their rights and responsibilities to be heard prior to discretionary decision-making.

In the interim, a State Parks news release indicates public meetings will be held (not yet scheduled at the time of this writing) where people in the community can be fully briefed. Everyone will have the opportunity to offer their input about the proposed development plans and also discuss alternatives that do not risk the old growth trees.  However, unlike a scoping session, these informational public meetings will be held later in the review process, after very expensive Environmental Impact Reports and project designs have been completed.

About one million visitors per year visit Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve according to parks statistics, making it a very popular, unique and valuable ecosystem in Sonoma County.

The preliminary plans from Parks, now on hold, included installing an 8″ water pipe through the park, passing very close to some of the unique old growth trees in the grove. These plans also called for trenching in addition to the use of horizontal drilling equipment which requires excavation of at least five large pits, the size of which will be determined by the contractor which may be 20′ by 20′ by 20′ deep.  At least 3 additional pits will be necessary to accommodate the fire hydrants included in the current plans. It is inevitable that some damage will be done to the trees, some of which are thousands of years old, when their roots are cut by trenching and excavation by backhoes and bulldozers to create trenches and pits. Some pits are quite close to old growth trees. Horizontal drilling will also introduce “drilling mud” into the Nature Reserve which may contain contaminants which will impact the environment or enter the stream there.

Another concern for the trees is the impact of pumping the water from beneath the nearby stream which will reduce the water table and the subsurface flow and potentially endanger the trees. Analysis of state and federal rainfall averages in the California old growth groves shows that Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve has among the lowest average annual rainfall of any of the groves.

Monitoring the plans of the State Parks for the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is an ongoing effort of the entire community. Good public attendance at the meetings is important to preserve the woods. If you would like to help or for more information and to stay connected send an e-mail to Friends of Armstrong Woods at armstrongredwoods@aol.com.

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