Bohemian Grove Timeline

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

Making more, fixing less

by Rick Coates

Well, they are at it again. Caltrans contractors are busy cutting more mature redwoods along Highway 101 to make room for more automobile habitat. At a time when climate is warming dangerously, Caltrans, with the encouragement of our local government, is cutting redwoods which remove the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so we can increase the number of carbon dioxide producers on the freeway.

Why? What causes this insanity? Is it ignorance of science? Is it selfishness? Or is it that our representatives pay more attention to the auto lobby than they do to the health and safety of their constituents? Yes, they support the SMART train, then undercut the ridership by expanding 101. And now, for the same reason, Golden Gate Transit is considering suspending routes to Sonoma County.

Public Policy has serious consequences. Last year the automobile killed 33,963 men, women, and children in the US. This is far more than our losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trains accounted for only 971 fatalities and nearly half of those resulted from a conflict with, you guessed it, an automobile. And these numbers will pale into insignificance to the loss of life due to global climate change.

Climate change is the single largest log-term threat to forests,, not to mention, species survival and water resources.

So why do we take the problem so lightly? The Board of Supervisors should be leading the charge for alternative transportation. More rails, less asphalt. More bike trails, interconnected with neighboring counties, no new highways. More electric cars and charging stations, fewer SUV and Hummers. More safe, convenient and on-time public transit. More carbon fixing trees, fewer carbon spewing autos.

It’s the stupid system

by Rick Coates

Outrageous. Disheartening. But, unfortunately, no longer surprising. After fourteen years of involvement in government environmental review, my naiveté is dead. Still, it was not without concern that I received four calls in the last three months. Calls about corruption. From insiders.

The first call was from a young man who had hired on to a prestigious environmental consulting firm in San Francisco. His specialty was toxicology. He had just received his doctorate and still retained the fresh idealism of youth. He was assigned a task analyzing water issues related to a construction project to be built by a major oil company. His findings, which were to be included in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), turned up serious toxic pollution that might potentially delay or halt the project. His company had just asked him to alter his findings in order to protect their client, a company whose name virtually everyone on Earth would recognize. To his credit, he had resigned rather than falsely his data. Unfortunately, his firm had changed the results anyway and issued the report with his name on it. He was made to understand that if he complained, he would not get another job in the industry.

Least you think that this was unique, consider call number two from a scientific consultant who worked on a local conversion-of-timberland-to-grapes in Sonoma County. The consultant was pressured to conclude that there would be no significant damage to a particular watershed by the project. The evidence was clear. Flooding and erosion would increase, percolation to ground water would decrease. The wells of the neighbors would suffer. The salmon habitat in the creek was already degraded. Additional silt would destroy it. The scientist had resisted so another consultant was hired to do the job.

The third call was from a well respected scientist who told me a story of his graduate student days. He had worked on research for the National Forest Service while doing his doctoral work. His thesis advisor placed him in charge of an ongoing research project while he took several months off to work on another project for a private company. When the advisor returned, the results of the forestry research done by our hapless graduate student displeased him greatly. Apparently the results threatened the profits of the private company that the thesis advisor worked with. The graduate researcher was told to alter his findings or do without a doctoral degree. You will be happy to know that the doctoral candidate ultimately received his doctorate by appealing over the head of the advisor, but was prevented from publishing in the U.S. for many years. His advisor had positions on or connections with peer review boards of Journals in the field. Our hero is now much older and has over 50 peer-reviewed publications under his belt.

The fourth call came from an insider in a government agency charged with reviewing a local logging plan. He told me that his supervisor instructed him to get the plan approved that the review process was “taking too long and too many questions are being asked.” The project proponent had “too many friends in Washington and Sacramento that can hurt the agency.”

Before jumping to the conclusion that we just need to eliminate the unethical individuals in the system, consider the system itself. Private projects in California must undergo review in accord with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The responsibility for review is vested in State or local agencies. The California Departments of Forestry (CDF), Fish and Game, and Water Quality Control review logging and conversion plans. But these departments do not write up the actual plans. Project proponents pay a private Registered Professional Forester (RPF) or a forestry firm to write a logging plan. Because foresters and forestry firms compete with one another for this business, they are under financial pressure to cut corners and increase the cut any way they can. Those who don’t maximize profits for their clients soon loose out in the market place. Lax review and enforcement of the regulations by CDF encourages cheating.

The same arrangement is true of biology, geology and hydrology consulting firms working on EIRs or logging plans. Project proponents contract directly for the production of an EIR.

Section 21082.1 of CEQA requires that EIRs “be prepared directly by or under contract to” the government agencies doing the review. The agencies may then recoup the costs by charging the project proponents fees. But the Second District Court of Appeals in a stunning example of judicial activism ruled in the case Friends of La Vina v. County of Los Angeles that it was OK for project proponents to hire consultants directly so long as the agencies “review” their work and adopts it as their own.

Unfortunately, many of the agencies are so cozy with the industry which they regulate that they are disinterested in an objective review. CDF routinely accept the forester’s and consultant’s ridiculous assertions as “substantial evidence” without (and contrary to the requirements of CEQA) any data presented to back them. Without public involvement plans are virtually rubber stamped.

Until this dysfunctional relationship between the project proponents, their consultants and the agencies, changes we can expect that the foresters will continue to claim and CDF will continue to agree that disastrous logging plans will have “no significant environmental effects.”

Please write your California Senator and Assembly Member and ask that they sponsor legislation to change this insidious arrangement.

CalFire collusion with CGS to violate the law

April 9, 2010

by Rick Coates

California Geological Survey (AKA Department of Mines and Geology) is failing to protect the public health and safety and public resources in collusion with the California Department of Forestry (AKA CalFire) . We have seen a series of disasters caused directly by logging conducted under Timber Harvest Plans (THPs) incorrectly approved by the CalFire and the California Geological Survey (CGS). Homes have been destroyed, water sources made unfit for human use, and fisheries destroyed. On several occasions, lives have been threatened.

This is a result of the inappropriate political influence of the timber industry on CalFire and CGS. At issue here is CGS’s failure to obey both statute and regulations (as outlined in detail below).

The problem is long-standing, pervasive and dangerous. I have been reviewing THPs for nearly 20 years and have noted clear misconduct by CGS in several respects. These problems fall into five categories:

1. CGS permits Registered Professional Foresters (RPF’s) to practice geology without a license.

2. CGS accepts RPF’s claims without substantial evidence in the THP record.

3. CGS uses taxpayer funds to provide consulting to RPF’s and the Companies they represent, fixing mistakes and doing geology that should have been done by an independent geologist.

4. CGS, after providing missing work, then “reviews” their own work, violating the principal of independent review.

5. CGS permits Geologists and Engineering Geologists to submit reports to THP review that are not in conformance with statute or regulation

I will consider each of these points in detail:

1. CGS permits Registered Professional Foresters (RPF’s) to practice geology without a license.

The Forest Practice Rules [Section 1034(x)(10)] require that an RPF provide a map with the location of known unstable area or slides in the THP. It does not, however, require or even permit him to locate them himself or evaluate their stability. That determination clearly falls within the expertise of a licensed geologist. [See Rules and Regulations of the Board for Geologists and Geophysicists, Section 3003(d) and (f)] Just as he must seek advice from other professionals in other areas when his expertise is limited, so the RPF must seek the expertise of a licensed geologists to determine the location of slides and unstable areas. Determination of the location and stability of slides clearly falls under the definition of “professional geological work” as defined in the Rules and Regulations of the Board for Geologists an Geophysicists [Article 1, Section 3003]. Only licensed Geologist or Engineering Geologists are permitted to do professional geological work..

The Forest Practice Act specifically states [Article I, Section 4514(c)] that neither the Board of Forestry nor its regulations may limit “the power of any state agency in the enforcement or administration of any provision of law which it is specifically authorized or required to enforce or administer.” Therefore, neither CGS nor CDF has any authority to determine what constitutes work that requires a licensed geologist. The Board of Geologists and Geophysicists has that authority.

Furthermore, the Professional Foresters Law [Section 752(b)] specifically limits the services an RPF may offer and notes that he may need to utilize the services of other qualified experts. Specifically included in the list of other experts is “geologists”. In addition, Section 772 of this same law makes it clear that the Board of Forestry does not have the authority to certify or license an RPF as a geologist. Add to that CCR, Title 14, Chapter 10, Section 1602(b) which states that “A Registered Professional Forester (RPF) shall perform forestry services only in those subjects in which he or she is competent by training or experience.” Once again “geologists” is listed among those whose services he may need to utilize.

Yet, in spite of the clear dictates of law, CGS routinely permits foresters to locate slides and determine their stability without the aid of a licensed Geologist or Engineering Geologist. The public has often been forced to hire a genuine geologist to review the information in THPs. Repeatedly determinations by foresters that CGS approved have been found to be professionally inadequate, inaccurate and incomplete. I have yet to see CGS reject a THPs geological evidence as incomplete or inaccurate without such a challenge from the public.

2. CGS accepts RPF’s claims without substantial evidence in the THP record.

THP review is a Certified Program under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Act requires that conclusions of “no significant adverse environmental effect” be made on the basis of “substantial evidence in the record” of review. Statements without such backing are termed “conclusory” and courts have repeatedly ruled that approval of a THP based upon conclusory statements is an abuse of discretion. The RPF’s statements regarding the location and stability of slides is not considered “substantial evidence” because he is not qualified to make such determinations. Yet, CGS routinely accepts RPF conclusions despite the lack of a supporting geologic report by a licensed geologist. CEQA requires information in a THP be “site specific”. The only geologic evidence ever offered by an RPF is an outdated geologic map of a scale too large to determine site-specific slides.

3. CGS inappropriately uses taxpayer funds to provide consulting to RPF’s and the Companies they represent, fixing mistakes and doing geology that should have been done by an independent geologist.

It is not appropriate for a State agency to provide consulting services to a private party at taxpayer expense, especially when that agency is also charged with reviewing the profession adequacy of the work of that party or their consultant. Furthermore, the scope of geologic review on a logging plan by CGS is limited to conformance with professional standards, the requirements of law and regulation of a geologic report submitted with the plan.

Notwithstanding, CGS routinely and inadequately evaluates the geologic conditions on THPs doing some of the work that independent geologists should be doing. They pretend that it is “review” but the work they do exceeds the scope of that which a reviewer does. The work is more akin to a (deficient) geologic report. They rightly do not call their work a “report ” (they refer to it as a “memorandum”) because it does not meet the legal requirements of a geologic report. But neither does it meet the legal requirements of a “review”.

Forest Unlimited commissioned a report by Engineering Geologist Ray Waldbaum titled “Standard of Care For Engineering Geologic Investigation”. It reviews the adequacy of the geologic analysis for a specific logging plan, THP 1-06-008 SON and the CGS’s Geological “review” of that THP. It concludes that there is no legitimate geology presented in the THP for CGS to review and that the work done by CGS is contrary to CGS’s own guidelines and workshop for geologists.

4. CGS, after providing missing work, then “reviews” their own work, violating the principal of independent review.

It is not proper under regulations contained in Note 45 of 50 the Geology Board for the reviewer to provide the geologic work for the RPF and then “review” it himself. The task of a reviewer is to determine the qualifications of the contributor to the THP and the adequacy of their work. They are not to second guess the conclusions of the professional unless the conclusions clearly do not follow from the data provided. Because the only evidence presented by a licensed geologist is that done by CGS, this evaluation lacks any independent review.

5. CGS permits Geologists and Engineering Geologists to submit reports to THP review that are not in conformance with statute or regulation

After considerable effort CDF, CGS and the Board of Geologists and Geophysicists agreed on guidelines (actually regulations) governing the content of geological reports for Timber Harvest Plans. Specifically Note 45 (Guidelines For engineering Geologic Reports For Timber Harvesting Plans) and Note 50 (Factors Affecting Landslides in Forested Terrain) spell out what information must be included in a geologic report for THPs. In the rare instances that foresters actually submit such a report, CGS fails to insist that these regulations are complied with. Checking for compliance with the regulations is, of course, one of the main duties of a reviewer.

Know your watershed

by Rick Coates

I am amazed at the number of blank stares that I get in response to the question “What is your watershed?” If I had asked what neighborhood they lived in or what street they lived on, they would answer immediately. Yet a question about water, an absolute necessity for life, elicits perplexity.

In some cases it is the word “watershed” that they do not know. Your watershed is the entire upland area, from ridge top to ridge top, that collects, stores and releases rain water surrounding your home together with the creek or river that drains that area. Watersheds are usually named by the creek or river that drain them such as the Santa Rosa Creek Watershed, but they include all of the surface land that drains to that watercourse.

City folks often know not their watershed because it is underground. Rain flows from their roofs to the curb and down the culvert drain. Out of sight, out of mind. No visible creek and the related watershed disappears. Or their waterway no longer bears the name of a creek. Instead it is called a “flood control channel” and is straight as a city street. Most likely, though, most folks have never thought of how important the watershed is to them and how they effect it. Until a flood washes through their living room. You can bet that the citizens of Guerneville know their watershed. Or until gasoline bubbles up in the bathroom tub as happened in the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa. Or until their well runs dry. Or until the salmon disappear.

Take some time to get out a map, locate your home and note the creek or river closest. Thomas guides or Google Maps show greater detail but topographic maps better define the drainage area. Actually you live in several watersheds. The “highest” order watershed is the headwaters or tributary of the nearest creek. Each time the creek flows into another larger creek it drains an even larger watershed. The final and largest “first order” watershed drains to the sea.

For example, consider Santa Rosa Creek Watershed, a fifth order watershed. Santa Rosa Creek, which starts in the Mayacmas Range east of Santa Rosa, flows south to the juncture of the Valley of the Moon and Rincon Valley. Along with the water flows pesticide and herbicide residues washed off the nearby vineyards. Along the way Brush Creek joins Santa Rosa Creek. Therefore those who live in the Brush Creek watershed also live in the Santa Rosa Creek Watershed. At E street in downtown Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Creek dives underground flowing beneath the Santa Rosa City Hall hidden from life-giving sunshine. When it emerges just west of Highway 101 near Days Inn it has become the “Santa Rosa Flood Control Channel”, straight and true. By this time the drainage from city streets and parking lots has joined the flow. It caries nice additives like garden pesticides, gasoline, oil, and detergents. Soon thereafter, near Llano Road, it joins the effluent from the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant falling into the Laguna de Santa Rosa Flood Control Channel, a fourth order waterway which meanders sluggishly and darkly through the Laguna de Santa Rosa Watershed. It is here that animal waste tea joins the soup. The Laguna is a third order Watershed. The water and its pollutants then join the waters of Mark West Creek, a second order watershed. Mark West Creek together with its load of treated sewage effluent joins the Russian River Watershed just downstream of the Sonoma County Water Agency’s drinking water intake. The Russian River is a first order, if not a first class, watershed. It is fed by many smaller watershed some contributing agricultural fertilizers and pesticides and some contributing silt from logging operations.

Its pretty obvious that what happens upstream of the drinking water for most of Sonoma County is important. Its important for the fish too. Pesticides from home and farm wash into the stream. Many pesticides aside from being toxic themselves contain a wetting agent known as nonyl phenol. Many detergents also contain nonyl phenol. Nonyl phenol, an estrogen mimic, has been shown to effect the salmonid reproductive cycle. Salmonids must readjust to salt water when they return to the ocean. Unfortunately, small concentrations of nonyl phenol can damage their ability to properly adjust to sea water. The result: these salmon fail to thrive and seldom return to spawn. Excess silt running off denuded hillsides can actually confuse migrating salmon and steelhead causing them to end up in a creek for which they are genetically unsuited.

Forests, both upland forests and riparian forests, play an important role in cleaning the creaks and rivers of silt and pollutants. What is upstream in your watershed matters. Forests hold water and release it slowly throughout the year, reducing flooding. Trees, especially redwoods, filter prodigious quantities of water trapping pollutants in their trunks. The transpired water gets recycled to the forest by fog precipitation. Consequently, it is important to monitor the forest condition within your watershed.

What’s downstream matters too. Pollutants carried by tributaries into the main stem below your watershed can kill fish before they ever reach your stretch of the creek. More and more salmonids must “run the gauntlet” before reaching spawning habitat. After spawning, salmon die and their decaying bodies provide necessary nutrients and food for other creatures. Wildlife require riparian corridors up and down the length of the watershed (including within cities!). It is particularly important that wildlife have access to clean drinking water. Zoning should provide development setbacks from the creek to protect wildlife habitat and provide sufficient riparian forest and wetland to cleanse the runoff waters.

A healthy watershed provides a year round source of water for forests. Forests provide an even, year-round flow of water to the creeks and rivers. Watersheds are crucial to the health of forests. Forests are crucial to the health of the Watersheds.

Does your watershed have an active group of citizens that monitors and protects it? If not, Forest Unlimited would like to help you organize one. If you do, Forest Unlimited would like to provide your group with a forest protection training. Forest Protection Workshops, custom scheduled for your group’s convenience, provide an understanding of the political and legal tools your group can used to prevent abusive logging or riparian damage in your watershed. For more information contact us at 707-632-6070 or visit