Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ruled today that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved the Bohemian Club’s 100-year logging plan for the Bohemian Grove.
Several years ago Forest Unlimited helped to organize, educate and advise the Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club. The BRRC and Forest Unlimited together with the Sierra Club reviewed and commented upon a Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) filed by the Bohemian Club with the California Department of Forestry (CDF). After three years of review and three major revisions to this open-ended logging plan, CDF still approved what we still felt was an illegal plan. Consequently BRRC and the Sierra Club sued the Bohemian Club and CDF.
The ruling in the case, Sierra Club and Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club v. CALFIRE, is a win for environmentalists who for years waged a David and Goliath-style battle in an effort to scale back logging at the Bohemian Club’s 2,700-acre Bohemian Grove near Monte Rio, 75 miles north of San Francisco.
The ruling is significant because it requires CALFIRE to consider reasonable alternatives that are less damaging to the environment, said Paul Carroll, the attorney who successfully argued the case.
Environmentalists had opposed the Bohemian Club’s Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) , which sought CALFIRE’s approval to log up to nearly two million board feet per year, including some old growth, at the Bohemian Grove. The Sierra Club’s lawsuit maintained that the Bohemian Club initially overstated the amount of timber that could be sustainably harvested, in violation of CEQA.
The Bohemian Grove, the Bohemian Club’s elite enclave on the Russian River, contains magnificent redwoods and Douglas fir, some more than 1,000 years old. Coastal old-growth redwoods remain on only 4 to 5 percent of their original range: a 450-mile band along the Pacific coast from Big Sur, California to southern Oregon.
The Bohemian Club’s NTMP drew hundreds of public comments, more than any other in the history of California’s 1972 Forest Practices Act. In this ruling, Judge Chouteau questioned how CALFIRE could consider clear cutting as potentially feasible, but reject the public’s request for less damaging alternatives.
This ruling affirms that public participation in the permitting process is essential to protecting the state’s remaining old growth, said John Hooper, a long time forest activist and former Bohemian Club member whose objections to the logging plan led to the lawsuit.
In 2001, while a member of the Bohemian Club, Hooper hiked the outlying acres of the Bohemian Grove. He came upon large old-growth redwoods and Douglas fir that had been tagged for harvest. He learned that the Bohemian Club, citing the need for fire prevention, had applied for a permit (NTMP) to harvest 1.13 to 1.8 million board feet per year. A 2001 internal report by the Bohemian Grove’s then-forester had concluded that the Grove could only sustain a maximum cut of 500,000 board feet in a year without damaging the forest.
The Bohemian Club had logged 11 million board feet been 1984 and 2005, including old growth trees. At least nine old-growth stands were still intact, but Hooper found that these hadn’t been disclosed in the Bohemian Club’s NTMP. State regulations require landowners to divulge “special and unique” resources on their property so that logging plans can be accurately evaluated. CALFIRE requires that NTMP timber harvest goals be sustainable.
Scientists from UCLA and UC-Davis disputed the Bohemian Club’s sustainability and fire safety claims. The California Department of Fish and Game also criticized the plan.
“From start to finish, this was clearly a logging project, not a project to reduce the fire hazard,” said Philip Rundel, Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA. “The harvest rates and cutting schedules were totally inconsistent with the plan’s claims of restoring natural forest conditions.”
As a result of the criticism, the Bohemians scaled back their NTMP. The Bohemian Club resubmitted its NTMP in 2009, but offered no “feasible alternatives” to the proposed logging, as CEQA requires. CALFIRE approved the plan anyway, just two days before stronger regulations protecting Russian River salmon and steelhead took effect.
Concerned about the challenge to the integrity of CEQA, the Sierra Club filed suit in January 2010. In today’s ruling, the Court ordered CALFIRE to rescind its permit to the Bohemian Club and start over.
“Today’s victory shows that no matter how influential a group may be, it is not exempt from the law,” said Rick Coates, executive director of Forest Unlimited in Cazadero and a veteran of many redwood battles.
Here are some of the courts findings:
“It is difficult to understand why CDF would include clearcutting as a potential feasible harvesting alternative but reject the suggestion by public commentators that CDF consider a reduced harvest alternative. CDF rejects the clearcutting alternative as infeasible, but provides no clear justification for rejecting some form of reduced harvest alternative.”
“Given the fact that the department was unable to come up with one feasible alternative to be analyzed, it is difficult to conclude that the environmental document sets forth alternatives necessary to permit a reasonable selection of alternatives that will allow meaningful evaluation.”
“The NTMP is inadequate to support CDF’ s decision to approve the project.”
For more information:
11/9/10 After waiting nearly a year for a court date of November 12,2010, the plaintifs in the suit against the Bohemian Club were informed four days before the trial date that the Judge Robert S. Boyd recused himself citing close relatives who belong to the Bohemian Club! Judge ReneAuguste Chouteau has been assigned to hear the case sometime in 2011.
1/28/09 The Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club and the Sierra Club filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court to set aside CalFire’s approval of the Bohemian Club’s logging plan. The Bohemian Redwood Rescue Club was organized, trained and advised by Forest Unlimited. A special thanks to the Sonoma Group of the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club for their support of this legal challenge. Click here to donate to the legal fund for this suit. To see the petition click here: Sierra Club & BRRC vs. CDF.
1/16/10 As of this date, the Sheephouse Creek NTMP has not been returned to Calfire for additional review. A recent engineering report submitted to Calfire demonstrates that the proposed unimproved haul road, cannot withstand heavy logging trucks without damage and likely siltation of Sheephouse Creek. If you would like to help review this plan contact us.
1/16/10 Calfire approved the Sunrise Mountain THP months ago but, as yet Gualala Redwoods Inc. has not logged likely because of the low price of timber. GRI also applied for and received a lot line adjustment that would facilitate homebuilding on the parcels after logging. We still have hope that GRI will consider selling the parcels to the Open Space District for inclusion in the recently acquired Jenner Headlands.
12/29/09 CalFire approved the Boheminan Club Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan in spite of the fact that the Club has too many acres to qualify for such a plan and that the Alternatives Analysis and the discussion of cumulative effects all violate the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. Read More at savebohemiangrove.org.