Felta Creek Threatened By Aggressive Logging Plan
[Note: A court hearing on this logging case will be heard Friday, August 17th at 3 pm in Rm 18, Empire Collge Annex, 3035 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa, CA. The public is invited to view the Hearing but seating is limited.]
As wild Coho salmon have disappeared in every tributary of the Russian River watershed over the past decades, Felta Creek remains the rare exception. Even in the low fish years of 2006 and 2008, endangered wild Coho salmon survived in the shady pools of this boulder strewn west county stream. This spring, UC researchers discovered multiple spawning beds, or “redds,” in the creek’s gravel bars. But the fate of this fragile habitat now lies in the hands of an absentee landowner with an aggressive logging agenda.
In late 2015, Humboldt County resident Ken Bareilles bought a 160-acre Timberland Production Zone property that includes a core section of Felta Creek’s headwaters. Bareilles, a logger and lawyer, filed a Timber Harvest Plan with CalFire(formerly the California Department of Forestry). Barring some act of intervention, the plan — THP 1-17-017 SON (Fox Meadows) — is on its way to approval.
The fact that Bareilles’ plan progressed this far this quickly has alarmed both professionals and community members. Of the 160-acre property, registered forester Randy Jacobszoon’s plan calls for logging on 146 acres. Of that, 130 acres are slated for Group Selection and Transition Harvest — essentially, aggressive multi-acre patch cuts. According to the California Geological Survey, “site slopes range from 10 to 80 percent gradients … geologic mapping identifies dormant and active deep-seated landslides as underlying the plan area.” How will heavy equipment, logging and hauling during the winter affect a slide-prone landscape?
“I have reviewed logging plans in Sonoma County for over 20 years, and this is one of the worst,” says Larry Hanson, president of Forest Unlimited. “First, there is the delicate and biologically important stream that runs through it. Second, there are critical safety issues related to school children and local residents who use this one-lane dirt road to get in and out of their homes. Finally, there are climate impacts.”
NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service, recognizing the critical need to protect this watershed, recommended a more sustainable approach to limit erosion and preserve more of the forest canopy. In a public meeting on Thursday June 15, 2017, Anthony Lukacic, the CalFire official in charge of recommending the proposed timber harvest plan for approval, said one of NOAA/NMFS’s recommendations made it into the final plan. He considered but rejected others, deciding that CalFire’s Forest Practice Rules would suffice if adequately implemented.
According to Russian Riverkeeper, the stakes couldn’t be higher. “Losing one of the single best juvenile Coho Salmon habitats on Felta Creek that get baby Coho through the hot summer months would be a massive blow,” says Russian Riverkeeper president Don McEnhill.
Community members and county officials are alarmed by the scope of the proposed hauling operation. The landowner has an easement to use Felta Creek Road, a private one-lane gravel road that winds above Felta Creek. Four full-time families reside there amidst some grape cultivation. The use and maintenance of this rural road have been sufficient to balance light traffic and the health of the fishery. But Felta Creek Road has never been an industrial logging haul road.
Community members have been told to expect 13 logging trucks per day in 6 separate shifts. Two wooden bridges, privately installed and maintained, have not been inspected to see if they can withstand this kind of impact. There are sharp turns around big trees, few turnouts, two waterfall crossings, a mile-plus section of road susceptible to sedimentation of the creek. At the bottom is Westside Elementary School, with over 170 students, some who walk down Felta Creek Road to attend classes. Most students and families use Felta Road, a publicly maintained county road where school traffic is already congested.
No traffic impact or safety studies were completed as part of the timber harvest plan. At the June 15 public meeting, CalFire’s Lukacic asserted that the hauling operation was a civil matter. A certified engineer’s letter questioning the suitability of bridges, numerous concerns about sedimentation of the creek, fire and public safety issues and threats of litigation have all been filed during the public comment period, set to close on June 26.
What could all this mean for the last recognized habitat for wild coho salmon in the entire Russian River watershed? One local timber operator who reviewed the plan predicted: “this is going to be ugly.”
According to one official at the CalFire meeting, agencies were concerned about Ken Bareilles’ record of land abuse: a cleanup and abatement order with the Regional Water Board in 2002, as well as CalFire violations. A March 12, 2012 California Department of Fish and Wildlife press release reported what inspectors saw at a Ken Bareilles-owned Humboldt property:
“… soil stock piled next to or in the stream channels, removal of riparian vegetation and poorly installed stream crossings. DFG then filed a formal complaint against Bareilles and he was convicted.
During a storm in January 2012, the team then returned and witnessed sediment entering streams and flowing downstream toward Redwood Creek during the salmon and trout spawning and rearing season. As the rain continued, video was taken of an estimated 10 cubic yards of sediment becoming saturated and flowing like lava into one of four affected streams on site.”
Bareilles’ THP zoned property also happens to be for sale. This means a buyer or coalition of buyers could potentially prevent logging in this critical watershed.
“There has to be a better way,” says Felta Creek Road resident Dan Imhoff. “We have to protect all the healthy habitats that remain in this County.” Imhoff helped start the organization, Friends of Felta Creek, to mount a community response and conservation outcome to the proposed timber harvest plan.
 “Humboldt County Attorney Convicted of Multiple Land Use Violations,” from CDFW News, March 12, 2012, web edition