Scorched timber is silhouetted against the sky over the Summit Fire area. Observers disagree over whether landowners should salvage trees from the fire area, and whether the City of Watsonville should resume plans for a timber sale. Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian
As the smoke clears, a timber sale on city land at Grizzly Flat in the Santa Cruz Mountains may turn partly into a fire salvage operation.
The 4,270-acre Summit Fire burned part of the city’s timber sale area, according to Marc Pimentel, administrative services director for the City of Watsonville. In a mid-year budget review, Pimentel anticipated about $200,000 in revenue from the timber sale.
“So far, we’re looking OK,” Pimentel said late last week as he received updates from the fire zone about the condition of the timberland. “It looks to be about half the property was hit, but the nature of the fire, by the time it came through there, it wasn’t as severe. The timber up there, the redwoods, the forester tells me, can survive a fire like that.”
Matt Dias, a registered professional forester for Big Creek Lumber, agreed that redwood trees possess thick bark that offer resistance to forest fires.
Roughly, every 10 years, the city harvests the Grizzly Flat parcel to thin out the forest, Pimentel said.
Long after the fire area has cooled down, the issue of logging in the city’s watershed will remain a hot topic, however.
“Logging, in my mind, is short-sighted for the City of Watsonville,” said Jodi Frediani, director of the Central Coast Forest Watch with the Sierra Club.
“That Grizzly Flat property, while it’s not within the City of Watsonville limits, it’s within their watershed, where they get water from Corralitos Creek,” Frediani said.
The Grizzly Flat property was previously logged and challenged, unsuccessfully, by Citizens for Responsible Forest Management, Frediani said.
Citizens for Responsible Forest Management, a group focused on preserving the ecology of the Santa Cruz Mountains, documented its attempt to intervene in the city’s timber-management plan at Grizzly Flat.
“Working closely with a coalition of environmental groups, we spearheaded the attempt to stop the city’s planned logging of Grizzly Flat, a late successional forest (recovering second-growth forest beginning to attain old-growth characteristics) that they hold in the public trust,” the group reported on its Web site (www.crfm.org/about.html). “The Watsonville Water Department, serving 48,000 water users, commissioned a forester to draw up a timber plan that proposed building roads and cutting trees immediately adjacent to streams and wetlands, and on steep erosive slopes in red-legged frog and steelhead habitat. CDF approved the plan and the Board of Forestry subsequently denied the county’s appeal; we filed a lawsuit but did not prevail. While the coalition was unsuccessful in stopping the logging project, we did succeed in raising the public’s awareness of key problems in the existing forest practice rules, including the lack of protection for riparian areas and late successional forest habitats.”
Efforts to reach city public works personnel and state officials familiar with the Grizzly Flat timber sale were unsuccessful, but Dias said selective logging can make a forest more resistant to fire and help protect the environment from the devastation of future fires.
“By harvesting redwood forests, you’re able to generate money, and you can take that money and make areas more fire resistant by doing brush treatment, increasing road access, etc.,” he said. “I do believe that by conducting timber harvest operations and by opening up the forest, you can make a forest more fire resilient.”
“There’s always a price to pay when you get the income off the sale of the trees; you have a drier forest, you have a forest that’s more likely to burn,” she said.
When developing a timber sale, an owner of forestland with less than 2,500 acres that is not primarily engaged in the manufacture of forest products must submit a Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire. The plan is designed for those who manage their timberlands on a “sustained yield” basis and not for clearcutting, according to the state’s NTMP guidelines.
“Once the project NTMP has been submitted to Cal Fire for going through the review process, there are quite a few opportunities and a lengthy opportunity for the public to comment,” Dias said.
It takes the state six to eight months to approve an NTMP, for the “bare minimum” review period, he said.
“The reality is in the litigious world we live in and the highly regulated world of timber harvesting, it will be a minimum of six months” for timber sales such as Grizzly Flat to get off the ground, he said.
Frediani, with the Sierra Club, said she would like to see Watsonville follow the lead of Santa Cruz and not log at all.
“There was a lot of community concern, at least on this end of the county, on the wisdom of the city logging their timberlands,” she said. “The City of Santa Cruz has decided to no longer log their timberlands.”
Pimentel said the Grizzly Flat timber harvest — setting aside from any forest management objectives — promises much-needed revenue to the city. Watsonville faces a $2.2 million deficit in fiscal year 2008-2009, he noted, and predictable revenue is in short supply.
(Published in 6/2/08 edition)
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