Should We Plant or Protect?

The short answer is: both.  However, it is good to understand that, in terms  extracting climate-changing carbon dioxide from the air, protecting existing mature forests is more effective than planting small seedlings.  It will take decades for a seedling equal the carbon storage of a mature conifer.  Unfortunately we don’t have decades to head off the disasterous effects of climate change.  This video by our friends in Napa County says it better than I can:Watch their video 

 

 

Letter to Board of Supervisors Supporting a Tree Ordinance

May 5, 2021

Dear Supervisors and Staff:

We are writing on behalf of our approximately 1500 Forest Unlimited supporters. We have worked locally for over 25 years to protect watersheds from irreversible impacts of irresponsible logging and planted over 34,000 redwoods on protected properties with hundreds of volunteers.

Forest Unlimited members are participating and watching the County’s current effort to update the tree protection policies.  In that spirit, while the existing tree policies are reviewed and a new policy adopted, we urge the County of Sonoma to act swiftly and cease issuance of tree removal permits to prevent further destruction of trees, woodlands, and forests. As climate science tells us, existing trees are a large part of the climate saving-equation drawing down large quantities of the harmful carbon we continue to emit in large quantities (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,  Moomaw, Ph. D. et al.  Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves Greatest Good).

Science tells us that we have only ten years for making significant gains. Trees that are 10 years or older translate into time, this is the time we need to make the necessary adjustment to mitigate climate change impacts. Therefore, all trees at least 10 years of age must be preserved across the county’s landscape. Protected trees will provide substantial services to the community and future generations.

Major Long-term Economic and Community Safety Considerations

* Climate change is adversely affecting our existing community, our farms, and our watersheds;

• Reversing climate change is of the highest concern and effective measures to contribute to that effort must be implemented;

• Drastic reductions in emissions and drawing down carbon are critically important in that effort;

• Existing trees drawdown carbon immediately and on a large scale;

• Compromising our ability to drawdown carbon should not be an option at this time;
• Existing woodlands, forests, and trees must be preserved with minor exceptions (e.g. trees close to homes);

The Protection of Trees

Currently, Sonoma County permits large numbers of tree removal proposals on a yearly basis.
This is true despite the many valuable functions trees provide to the community including:

• Protection of our shared clean water supply insofar as woodlands of all sorts help infiltrate water into the aquifers for well owners and stream flows, reduce soil erosion by protecting soils from runoff of stormwaters, and help moderate soil heating and soil loss from extreme solar exposure deep ripping, etc.;

•  Mature trees are more fire resilient;

• Trees provide free services to the community and are better than “shovel ready” because they are doing critical work for us already;

• Mature trees sequester by far more carbon than seedlings and saplings;

• Woodlands support very high levels of biodiversity which is critical to humans as well as other species;

• Protecting trees safeguards soil and groundwater through their deep root structure and works in combination with canopy shade that also provides micro-climate enhancement;

• Trees create wet weather systems that we need on large and small scales; and

• The upper canopy of woodlands cool the soil below and facilitate absorption of rainfall into the ground for human and other uses.

Actions Required

• Refrain from issuing tree removal permits until such time as the County has in place a Comprehensive Tree Protection Policy that is based on the latest climate science;

• Create County policy so that mature trees are of the highest value to the health and safety of our community in the fight to rein in climate change.

• Ensure that the new policy is fair–projects and proposed activities will be treated the same and existing mature trees, woodlands, and forests will be presumptively protected;

• The County should look at narrow exceptions for creating reasonable defensible space around individual homes for fire protection (see Jack Cohen, Ph. D.);

Forest Unlimited has, and especially now, views all mature trees as highly valuable and urges the County of Sonoma to move forward a comprehensive and climate appropriate protection policy that honors our children and begins the long process of mitigating past and ongoing development activities.

We look forward to a successful update process that is based on the climate science.

Sincerely,

Larry Hanson
President of the Board of Directors
Forest Unlimited

How to Protect Trees: Policy for a 21st Century

Kimberly Burr

The County of Sonoma has long carried on its books a permissive policy that paves the way for developers broadly speaking to cut down trees – in small and in large numbers.
 
With the support, however of the three female County Supervisors – Zane, Gorin, and Hopkins, Forest Unlimited and its supporters have just achieved an important step towards properly valuing and protecting trees. The Update of the Tree Ordinance is now on the County’s Two Year Work Plan.
 
THE PROBLEM
As reported earlier, locally between 2007-13 approximately 950 – acres of Sonoma County were converted from woodlands to non woodlands. And there is no end in sight as new tree removal proposals are submitted virtually every week.  Where cool breezes once emanated and where water was efficiently created, cleaned, and stored, there are now hot exposed soils, re-contoured hills that drive polluted water off the land into ditches and streams carrying dust, spray, fertilizers (sometimes called “nutrients”) into water bodies during the winter and feeding algae in the summer. As to whether there are more trees now that the climate has warmed up, the facts in Sonoma County are that the trees are still coming down at alarming rates.
  
Good rules on canopy cover are needed now to protect and enhance – as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends for trees and woodlands. (9.5 million km2 increase in forests by 2050 relative to 2010. (IPCC Summary for Policy Makers). Reforestation and afforestation are needed to take carbon out of atmosphere quickly.

True Measure of a Sustainable County
Sustaining natural systems through clear policy is the true measure of a sustainable county. We know from history that societies as a whole have sometimes failed to recognize and to implement changes when environmental destruction was occurring. Many societies over-extended, exhausted their resources, and starved to death. We know this challenge. It is not new. Today, science and reason empower good policy even in the face of entrenched interests. Hopefully those that benefit from tree removals will not stand in the way of rational measures needed to minimize our highly destructive development patterns especially relative to our trees and watersheds. Better yet, perhaps the industries will lead and drive positive change in the expedited manner that is necessary. Who will it be?

The informed public has the most vital position to play on the team and must not abandon the field. In order to prevent more damage to important canopy cover, we must demand timely action for effective positive protections.

As science tells us, the momentum now is toward rapid extinction. We have very little time to improve our practices and prevent even more tragic fires, droughts, biological declines, and disasters. We all must do as much as we can each day to turn the tide. Some folks are in a position to do more than others…namely politicians and industry leaders. We are confident that the vast majority of folks see the good sense in protecting mature trees especially in the 21st Century.
 
We know Sonoma County business leaders, agriculture, and people are capable of leading an advertising campaign, and we urge them to put at least that much time and talent towards educating the public and our representatives about the immediate challenges with which are faced like preserving the County’s tree canopy. It not only absorbs the green house gas carbon dioxide but protects us from direct solar heat.

How Do We Achieve Success?
We will only get one chance at this.  We need to re-evaluate the true costs of tree removal to the community.  What is an adequate mitigation for the destruction of a 200 year old oak or oak woodland? Do a few baby ornamental trees installed to take the place of the mature trees that once touched the sky, recharged the ground water, cooled the air, and absorbed vast amounts of green house gases do the best job in the short time we have left? Or do we protect the vast majority of the trees we have and plant even more? Do we continue to give free passes to large landowners to do whatever they think is best for them at the expense of the watersheds and climate we all rely upon? What timeline is relevant today? What trade-offs does science say make the most sense?  What values should be attributed to trees and woodlands?
 
We must ask the question of ourselves, can we fulfill our dreams of success, richness, security, and happiness without large scale destruction of woodlands, forests, and mature trees? We need practical minds that will contribute practical and effective measures. Economic arguments are powerful and innately trigger certain responses, however unless economies works with nature, as we now know, we will fall far short of the actions needed. We need to grapple with whether all development is good development and if some development is exempted from common sense rules what effect does that have on our goals to restore, protect, and enhance our tree canopy?
 
We recognize, like many civilizations before us could not, that our area is rich in more ways than one. The question remains if whether our big brains and our collective will to survive is up to the task of using reason, cooperation, and problem solving, to stop the tragic destruction of our County’s important forests and woodlands.  

From the ED’s Desk

Rick Coates, Forest Unlimited Executive Director

Yes, Forest Unlimited fights bad logging practices. Yes, Forest Unlimited plants trees. But, no less important, Forest Unlimited is also an educational organization.

Forest Communique’
The Forest Communique’ is part of our educational program. We hope that you learn something important from every issue. We try to keep you up to date on forestry law changes and current logging plans. We try to correct the misinformation spread by the corporate timber industry and developers. And we inform you of ways you can help protect your watershed.

Talks by experts at events
Those of you who attended our recent Dinner Under the Redwoods at Camp Meeker know that we alway try to include a talk by an expert on important forestry topics.

This year’s talk was on Forest Fire and Public Policy by Brian Nowicki. Brian presented evidence that fires were made catastrophic not by forests, but rather by flammable houses built too close together in the urban-wildland interface. He showed photos of whole groups of houses burned to the ground yet surrounded by still green or barely singed conifers some with no sign of crown or underbrush fire. He noted that chaparral, not timberland, is a greater danger, yet the legislature has no program for chaparral management and is instead spending large amounts of money on “thinning” areas that will never burn.

Although Brian did not say so, I could add that the timber industry and their handmaiden, the Department of Forestry, saw the recent catastrophic fire crisis as an opportunity to justify more logging and stampede the legislature into unwise legislation.

The fire problem can’t be solved by unrestricted thinning of forests dubbed “fuel reduction” by CalFire. This is especially true when CalFire so rarely enforces its rules.

It is the homes, the real “fuel”, that need to be fire-hardened. This is expensive and many homeowners cannot afford the expenditure. But the legislature that claims to be concerned has provided no funds to help.

The very real danger of overhead power lines remains unaddressed by the legislature thanks to intense lobbying and campaign donations by PG&E. Since the Tubbs fire, PG&E lines have started two more (thankfully small) fires in Sonoma County.

Another factor making fires catastrophic is, of course, global warming and the terrific winds powered by the earth’s increasing heat. Forests soak up the carbon dioxide, the major cause of global warming. Planting forests is one of the most cost-effective ways to deal with climate change. But the state has no serious program to plant trees or even protect existing forests.

Presentations for the general public
I have been making presentations at the Sonoma Public Library branches on “Protecting our Forests” that also dealt with the fire danger and the history of logging in the North Bay.

Did you know that logging in the Oakland hills in the 1840’s and 1850’s lead the way for hillside homes, narrow streets (former logging roads) and dry conditions that culminated in the 1991 Tunnel fire in Oakland?

That fire destroyed more than three thousand homes and killed 25 people! The lesson was not learned as we saw when fire incinerated Fountain Grove in Santa Rosa. Logging corporations (in reality, development corporations) follow the same practice as they did in the 1800’s: Buy forestland, log the hell out of it, then sell it for homes and ranchettes. This places housing directly in wildlands.

Forest Protection Workshops
Forest Unlimited also has a program of Forest Protection Workshops specifically designed for watershed groups and neighborhood associations that are confronted with a proposed logging plan. It is difficult for groups to know just how to effectively deal with nearby logging. By the time they figure out the system, CalFire has approved the logging plan and trees are beginning to fall. So we provide them with a head start by explaining forestry law and regulations, identifying the governmental agencies responsible for making and enforcing those regulations and suggesting ways to intervene in the review process to alter and sometimes stop logging plans. Without citizen oversight, CalFire will simply not follow the law as we have repeatedly proved in court.

Project Based Learning
Finally, we educate citizens about the importance of active participation in policy decisions made by our legislature, our Supervisors and public servants.

For example, Forest Unlimited supporters recently attended a Supervisors Meeting to ask them to place revision of the Tree Ordinance on their staff’s work plan which they did. In the process, those who attended learned more about the county legislative process. We will be asking for your participation again when it returns to the Board of Supervisors.

Convinced that the best education is hands on learning by doing, we use our tree planting as an opportunity to teach about redwood ecology, proper methods of planting and the importance of forests to combating climate change. Incidentally, if you want to be notified of our next tree planting, email our Reforestation Manager Harlie Rankin harlierankin@gmail.com.

If you have additional ideas for our educational outreach, please contact us at contact@forestunlimited.org .

Forest ‘thinning’ is not the answer

Author:  Christy Sherr, September 25, 2015

Two Republican bills being considered by Congress are using the public’s fear and misunderstanding of wildland fire to mount one of the most extreme attacks on our national forests in history.

Both bills would suspend or weaken federal environmental laws and clear the way for the timber industry to dramatically increase commercial logging under the guise of “forest treatment” or “thinning.”

Though the term “thinning” may sound relatively benign, the majority of thinning operations on national forests are intensive commercial logging projects that frequently remove two-thirds of the trees, including mature and old-growth trees.

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