Ainsley Timber Harvest Plan Threatens Butano State Park

Lennie Roberts, CGF’s San Mateo Legislative Advocate, submitted these public comments on the proposed Timber Harvest Plan of the Ainsley Forest.

January 23, 2006

Ms. Leslie Markham
Deputy Chief, Forest Practice
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
135 Ridgeway Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

Re: THP 1-06-127 SMO, Ainsley Forest LLC

Dear Ms. Markham,

The Committee for Green Foothills has reviewed the above-referenced THP. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this plan.

The THP and its accompanying environmental information and analysis, as revised and recirculated on January 8, 2007, has significant errors and omissions and as such is incomplete and inadequate in a material way, and cannot be used to evaluate the environmental effects of the proposed THP. We believe that the THP in its current form has the potential to result in significant environmental impacts. The Alternatives Analysis does not include a fair and thorough analysis of possible alternatives, but rather appears to have been written to reach a foregone conclusion favoring the proposed THP.

Our specific concerns include the following:

1) Proposed commercializing of illegally harvested trees

The THP, on page 26, acknowledges that “The Ainsley Forest LLC pursued a project to mill lumber for personal use within the last couple of years. Hire labors (sic) fell (sic) approximately 50 trees within the project boundaries prior to the exploring the opportunity of a Timber Harvest operation with Big Creek Lumber Company.” It is a stretch to state that the cutting of 50 trees is merely for “personal use.” What documentation has the landowner provided that use of these trees was not for commercial purposes? On page 27, the THP states; “There is (sic) approximately 40-50 mbf of down timber manufactured into logs within the project boundaries.” Does mbf used here stand for million board feet? Assuming that the number should be 40-50 thousand board feet, this volume of product would provide sufficient lumber for several large single family residences. Reasonable “personal use” is not 40-50 trees. An associated impact of this unauthorized timber harvesting was the unauthorized construction of new roads. The December 7, 2006 comment letter from California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) states: “During the PHI, participants found that the landowner had already graded a proposed skid trail into essentially a very steep road. The grading extends downslope past the boundary of the proposed harvest unit to a location close to Gazos Creek. It may also impinge on marbled murrelet habitat.” DFG recommends a site evaluation by DFG staff to determine whether additional mitigation measures are required to restore the integrity of the murrelet habitat along Gazos Creek. Committee for Green Foothills strongly objects to allowing the illegally harvested conifers to be commercialized without any penalties or sanctions for timber harvesting without a permit and for grading of roads and skid trails including grading outside of the proposed THP area without permits. Commercializing the illegal activity would simply be rewarding the applicant for evading the law.

2) Conflicts between map and plan text regarding haul routes

The Haul Route Map, page 24.5, conflicts with the description of Haul Route #2, page 85. The text of Haul Route #2 states trucks will turn right (north) onto Cloverdale Road, and travel to State Highway 84 in Pescadero. Trucks would then turn west on 84 to State Highway 1. The text then erroneously states that trucks would take State Highway 1 north to Big Creek Lumber Company’s mill. However, the mill is south of this intersection.

Contrary to the text described above, the map shows trucks on Haul Route #2 turning south on Cloverdale Road, and then turning right (west) on Gazos Creek Road to State Highway 1. This section of Cloverdale Road is extremely narrow, windy, and has wholly inadequate lines of sight. As such, it is dangerous and should not be used. The inconsistencies and conflicts between the text and map should be corrected.

3) Inappropriate use of State Parks roads and park resources for commercial timber harvesting

The Traffic Impacts Analysis, page 85, requires the plan to identify any public roads to be used for transporting logs. The plan erroneously identifies Butano Fire Trail and China Grade Roads within Butano State Park as public roads. Although these roads are owned by State Parks, a public agency, they are behind locked gates and are not open to motorized use by the general public, and are therefore not public roads. Public use is limited to non-motorized recreational uses, including hiking, biking, and equestrian uses.

The plan is deficient in that it has no information as to what rights the applicant has to use these public park roads for commercial use including hauling of logs and associated timber operations. Absent a specific easement, use of these roads for commercial timber harvesting operations, and improvement of these roads as called out in the THP, violates Public Resources Code Sections 5001.65, 5001.7, and 5001.9.

The plan proposes to upgrade, expand, and maintain park roads, potentially impacting recreational use and enjoyment and damaging park resources. Regarding the proposed haul routes, the plan, page 22, states: “Prior to hauling, the road will have to be upgraded in certain locations to allow for safe passage of loaded log truck.” (sic) The THP fails to identify what rights the applicant has to “upgrade” State Park property, and specifically what such “upgrading” would entail. In addition to the undefined “upgrading” of haul routes, Portia Halbert, Resource Ecologist, State Parks, in a letter dated September 16, 2006, indicates that State Parks has approved construction and use of a turnaround within Butano State Park. The construction of the turnaround beyond the limits of the current park roads to accommodate commercial timber harvest operations violates the above referenced Public Resources Code Sections governing use of State Parks lands and resources. Ms. Halbert in the same letter indicates that the roads will not only be used and expanded for timber harvesting, but will be repaired, upgraded, and maintained subsequent to timber harvesting by the timber operator, plan submitter, or applicant.

If the applicant holds a valid recorded easement that permits commercial use of these park roads, the roads must be included in the plan as appurtenant to the timber operations, as required by 14 CCR 1034 (x). Impacts from use and expansion of the roads must be evaluated. Under CEQA, all potential environmental impacts of a project must be analyzed and mitigation measures must be adopted if there are significant environmental impacts.

4) Impacts to nesting marbled murrelets within the Butano State Park Habitat Area have not been evaluated

Haul Route #2 proposes to use the Butano Fire Trail to the north and west of the Ainsley property for hauling of logs. Most of the road traverses through occupied marbled murrelet nesting habitat within Butano State Park, and its quarter-mile buffer zone, as documented by California Department of Fish and Game. The THP Restrictions Map, page 24.3, shows a small portion of the Butano State Park Habitat Area, and a portion of the Butano Fire Trail. If Haul Route #2 is selected, the plan must be revised, in consultation with California Fish and Game, to evaluate impacts and provide mitigation measures for nesting marbled murrelets within the Butano State Park Habitat Area.

5) Recreational Impacts from the proposed THP have not been adequately evaluated

The THP, page 82, identifies a recreational assessment area to be analyzed as the project area plus the area within 300 feet of the project boundaries. This is inadequate. The project will involve use of the Butano Fire Trail and possibly China Grade as the haul road (see previous comments). The portions of these roads within Butano State Park are used by the public for hiking, bicycling, and equestrian use. The plan estimates that up to 20 trucks per day will use these roads. The plan must evaluate the impacts of commercial logging trucks and associated equipment and vehicles on recreational use of these roads.

6) Alternatives to the proposed project are not fairly and thoroughly evaluated

Committee for Green Foothills is concerned that the Alternatives Section in the THP dismisses Alternative 3: Public or Private Purchase of the Timber/Timberland Alternative without any basis in fact. Particularly troubling is the conclusion that if public purchase of the property occurred, “additional infrastructure and facilities would most likely be constructed. Additional roads, parking lots, bathrooms, trails, and maintenance facilities would have to meet or exceed the rate of use by individuals seeking recreation opportunities.” This conclusion is not based on factual evidence, and is in fact contrary to the management of the back country of Butano State Park and other redwood parks in the area. Old fire trails and logging roads are used by hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, and do not necessitate construction of additional roads, new parking lots, bathrooms, trails, and maintenance facilities. Addition of this remote property to Butano State Park could expand the geographic area enjoyed by low impact recreational users and at the same time protect the important stream and wildlife habitats on the property. The THP’s proposed harvesting of the maximum allowable commercial forest species (up to 60% of trees 18” in diameter and greater dbh, and up to 50% of trees between 12” and 18” in diameter dbh) will result in substantial new road construction and reconstruction, operations in or adjacent to biologically sensitive habitat areas, and in geologically unstable land areas, all of which have the potential to cause greater environmental impacts than public purchase for parkland.

The Public or Private Purchase Alternative further dismisses private sale of these larger parcels of land, stating that such sale “could result in an additional portion of San Mateo County being subdivided and becoming densely populated.” The TPZ zoning district allows a very low density of development, in this case one house per 40 acres, and the property’s remote location greatly reduces the property’s desirability for residential development. An example of this lack of desirability is upper Gazos Creek Road, where several parcels of 20 to 40 acres have never been developed with residences. The conclusion that the property could become densely populated is erroneous and not supported by the facts. Further conclusionary statements in this paragraph are equally erroneous – for example, any very low density subdivision would be conditioned through the environmental review and approval process to protect wildlife migration corridors, aquatic habitat, and special status species.

Alternative 5; Delaying the Timing of the Project, or Alternative Project Locations on the Ownership states that the delay could affect Maximum Sustained Production per 14 CCR 913.11(c). However, this statement is contrary to the landowner’s demonstrated management given the fact that no commercial timber harvesting has occurred on the property since the late 1950’s. The statement that “not making timely environmental improvements to the site may present adverse effects’ is questionable since the owner has been engaged in illegal grading of skid roads, trails, and roads over the past two years, which has likely caused significant environmental impacts to the tributaries and mainstem of Gazos Creek. The landowner should be required to remediate these graded areas regardless of whether a THP is granted. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the landowner to maintain and repair logging landings, skid trails, roads, and other associated drainage facilities whether or not these activities are under the purview of a THP or a County Grading Permit.

CGF appreciates the opportunity to comment. We request that we be notified in writing of any actions CDF takes on this THP.

Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

cc: Portia Halbert, California Department of Parks and Recreation
Stacy Martinelli, California Department of Fish and Game
Kent Aue, California Department of Fish and Game
Rich Gordon, Supervisor, San Mateo County
Michael Schaller, San Mateo County Planning Division

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