Lennie Roberts, CGF’s San Mateo County Advocate, wrote this letter to the YMCA in December urging them to consider a more stewardship-based approach to managing the land at Camp Jones Gulch. The YMCA has now established a Stewardship Advisory Committee to review their timber harvesting plans and to help the camp develop alternatives to the NTMP permit the Camp filed last summer.
December 18, 2006
Charles Collins, President and CEO
Bill Worthington, Vice President, Property Development
San Francisco YMCA
631 Howard Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94105
Re: Alternatives to Proposed NTMP at Camp Jones Gulch
Dear Messrs. Collins and Worthington,
We are writing to outline an alternative plan for the YMCA that will meet the objectives of managing the Camp Jones Gulch property to reduce fire hazards, improve forest health and wildlife habitat, restore damaged or degraded areas, improve and maintain roads and trails, and enhance the outdoor education and recreation programs at the camp. This approach also can provide the YMCA with new sources of revenue and partners that will restore and enhance its stature with the community.
The YMCA and Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) have worked together during a number of meetings over the past three months. We have made considerable progress together, but as you know, CGF continues to be deeply concerned about the two threshold issues we have identified regarding the proposed Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) for the camp.
CGF’s first threshold issue is use of the NTMP, which would grant an entitlement to commercially log the redwood and Douglas fir forests at Camp Jones Gulch in perpetuity. The NTMP, once approved, does not allow for future public review or enforceable means to adapt the plan in response to new scientific knowledge or changed environmental conditions. The NTMP also commits the YMCA to land management that CGF believes is likely to have significant adverse environmental consequences. While reasonable people may disagree philosophically about timber harvesting, this particular NTMP has generated widespread opposition. Clearly there is tremendous public interest and concern that could be redirected to help the YMCA with the challenges of land management, stewardship, and financial support.
CGF’s second threshold issue is also a key component of our proposed solution to help meet the YMCA’s capital needs for upgrading the facilities and infrastructure. We strongly encourage the YMCA to pursue selling a forest Conservation Easement to a land trust such as Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) or Save the Redwoods League, or to a public agency such as Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. This Conservation Easement would generate capital funds, and also would allow the YMCA to carry out its programs and desired land management activities while protecting the forest.
We appreciate and commend the YMCA’s interest in managing your land in an environmentally responsible way. We hope that this letter can be the start of a strong partnership between the YMCA, its various constituencies, and the broader public. We pledge to use our time, expertise, and community contacts to help in this effort.
Resolution of current controversy
The YMCA is at a critical junction. If the YMCA continues on its present course of gaining approval of the NTMP, CGF believes the opposition will intensify and there will likely be challenges at every step of the timber harvest approval and implementation process. Based on our knowledge of the issues, we believe it is highly likely that if the California Division of Forestry (CDF) approves the NTMP, a legal challenge would be filed. Pursuit of the NTMP is counterproductive to the important goal of finding common ground and regaining the community’s support and trust. It is not too late to regain this support and trust. However, as long as the NTMP is pursued, it will remain as a focus of the opposition.
Restoration of the forest instead of a commercial tree farm
Instead of committing to operating a commercial tree farm (which is the basis of the NTMP), the YMCA should adopt an ecological approach to forest restoration. Wildlife Biologist Steve Singer, in his letter to CDF dated December 11, 2006, outlines more specifically the compelling reasons for this ecological approach, and the benefits of protection and enhancement of habitat for the federal and state protected marbled murrelet. Other benefits include avoidance of potential landslide hazards, erosion and sedimentation impacts, damage to water quality, potential adverse impacts to protected steelhead trout and Coho salmon, reduction of fire hazards, and improved aesthetics. A restored and preserved forest at Jones Gulch would be not only environmentally less damaging, it would be far more valuable to the YMCA and the constituencies it serves than the revenue from repeated cycles of timber harvesting.
Goals of a Stewardship and Restoration Plan
The goals of the Stewardship and Restoration Plan should be to protect and enhance the property’s natural biodiversity by preserving the old growth stands and restoring the second growth stands to resemble old growth conditions as much as possible. This would provide habitat for species dependent upon such older forest conditions. The restored second growth stands would have a continuous canopy that shades the forest floor and maintains cool and clear water in McCormick and Jones Gulch Creeks — necessary conditions for steelhead trout, Coho salmon, and other aquatic species. Mature second growth trees would provide potential habitat for the marbled murrelets that already occupy the nearby old-growth groves at the camp and in Pescadero Creek County Park. Typical understory plants in a mature second growth forest include hazelnut, ferns, huckleberry, and other low growing species. There would be few “ladder fuels”, a greater proportion of larger, fire resistant trees and moister ground conditions — elements that significantly reduce fire risk. The mature forest’s open, park-like quality could be more quickly achieved through selective removal of spindly conifers and the fast growing sun preferring species such as tan oaks and ceanothus that were stimulated by the last rounds of timber harvesting.
Steps toward a new approach:
1. While we have helped identify a number of potential candidates for a stakeholder planning group, this group should be revised and expanded to include people with expertise in wildlife and fisheries biology, forestry and fire ecology, forest restoration, geology and stream processes.
2. The YMCA should hire a consultant with an ecological background rather than timber harvesting to oversee the project, using grant sources from below to develop the Stewardship and Restoration Plan.
3. The YMCA should make sure the stakeholder group is encouraged to look broadly at ways the YMCA can meet its financial obligations to upkeep the camp while preserving and enhancing the natural biodiversity.
This approach has the potential to revitalize and expand the programs of outdoor recreation, nature study, and education at Jones Gulch. The YMCA’s mission, its partnership with the outdoor education programs of San Mateo and San Joaquin Counties, and its stature in the community would all benefit from this collaborative effort.
Financing a Stewardship and Restoration Plan
The YMCA can obtain funding for implementing its Stewardship and Restoration Plan from state and federal grants, special restoration funds such as oil spill trustee funds, foundations, and private donors. The San Mateo County Resource Conservation District in Half Moon Bay is familiar with many funding sources, and works with landowners and public agencies to obtain grants for conservation planning and implementation.
Forest Protection through a Conservation Easement
POST or Save the Redwoods League could purchase a Conservation Easement to ensure the preservation of the forest. A Forest Conservation Easement could be structured to allow the customary and desired activities of the YMCA including repair and maintenance of roads as well as thinning of underbrush and fuels reduction for fire safety. Incidental selective cutting of larger trees that would help the forest regain its mature park-like quality, and removal of hazard trees could still be allowed under a Conservation Easement. The Conservation Easement would provide the YMCA with capital funds that could be used to upgrade the buildings and infrastructure.
Repair and restoration of roads and trails
Legacy roads from previous logging operations should be repaired and maintained where these roads are still needed for Camp operations, recreation, and fire protection. Other legacy roads and skid trails that aren’t needed should be put to bed. There are funds available through the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program of the California Department of Fish and Game for assessment of roads and for road repair and restoration projects. This is the grant program that has funded a road and trail assessment in Pescadero, Memorial, and Sam McDonald County Parks, and has to date provided funds to repair some of the identified sites in these three nearby parks. Potential partners in road and trail repair and restoration include California Conservation Corps, Americorps, and nonprofit organizations such as Acterra and Community Impact.
Fuels hazard reduction
Fuel hazard reduction and non-commercial thinning of the forest for fire safety purposes can be funded through grants from CFIP and state funds such as Proposition 42, which funded a community scale fuel reduction program in the Lake Tahoe area recently. This latter program was developed and implemented through a partnership with the local fire agency. Much, if not all of the work to remove dead and fire prone brushy species can be accomplished at very low cost through partnering with the California Conservation Corps, the San Francisco Conservation Corps, and/or non-profit organizations. Such low tech programs could have an educational component to include student participation from Camp Jones Gulch attendees. A conservation grazing program could be designed and implemented to reduce the fire hazard in the grasslands. Potential partners in developing such a grazing program include the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District (RCD), the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the state University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).
Repair, upgrade, and replacement of dilapidated buildings
Potential partners in this effort include community-based organizations such as Community Impact and Christmas in April. In San Mateo County, some larger construction companies have donated materials and labor to non-profits for repair and rehabilitation of buildings as well.
Potential new program possibilities
It appears that the camp facilities are not fully utilized. If the YMCA desired to increase its operating revenues, it could consider making its facilities available to research and/or education programs such as a field station for study of redwood ecology, marbled murrelet, and Coho salmon/steelhead trout recovery research. Potential partners in this effort include UC Santa Cruz, San Jose State University, non-profit organizations such as the Pescadero Conservation Alliance, and others. The facilities could be used on weekends as overnight accommodations for volunteers who could do restoration projects at the camp or on public and private lands in the vicinity.
The NTMP path has sparked much opposition from the very community that has been nourished and inspired by the programs and activities at Camp Jones Gulch. While this opposition may seem like a bad nightmare, it is clearly a testament to the stewardship values that have been nurtured in the community and the allegiance these individuals feel toward the coastal redwood forests and the unique habitat values they provide. The time is now for the YMCA to take advantage of this heightened public interest and concern. We urge you to withdraw the NTMP, expand the Stakeholder Working Group to include people with expertise in forest and fire ecologists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, geology and fluvial/stream specialists, and move forward with a Stewardship and Restoration Plan. Many of these professionals would also have specific knowledge of the criteria and funding cycles for grant funding.
We very much appreciate all the time and care you have taken to listen to the community’s concerns. We now hope you will respond to those concerns along the lines of our proposal. We wish you all the best in your programs and we stand ready to assist you in developing and implementing a Forest Stewardship and Restoration Plan at Camp Jones Gulch.
Holly Van Houten Lennie Roberts
Executive Director Legislative Advocate
cc: Leslie Markham, California Division of Forestry
Rich Gordon, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
Kellyx Nelson, San Mateo County Resource Conservation District
Paul Ringgold, Peninsula Open Space Trust
Ruskin Hartley, Save the Redwoods League
Steve Singer, Environmental and Consulting Services