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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Protecting Sheephouse Creek Watershed, Sonoma County

If you do a Google Search on Sheephouse Creek you learn that it is one of three streams designated for restoration in order to save the threatened and endangered salmon that call Sonoma County “home.” That’s important information when you know that this area is also being considered for a major Timber Harvest Plan on Ricioli Ranch (NTMP #1-08NTMP-004SON), as well as Willig Gulch THP #1-08-025SON, which is close to approval. Both properties are located within the Sheephouse Creek Watershed.

On one side we have the California Department of Fish and Game conducting stream inventory reports on Sheephouse Creek for its reintroduction program for coho slamon, the Sonoma County Water Agency studying how to restore habitat for endangered fish that use this vital watershed, a CalFlora report “What grows here…” on the Sheephouse Creek watershed, a Sonoma Land Trust report on the importance of protecting this watershed for fish as well as for the water supply to the town of Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River – AND a petition to SAVE Sheephouse Creek.

There’s something terribly out of sync if all these organizations see the importance of saving what they consider to be a vital watershed and at the same time a Timber Harvest Plan is being considered. Trees and watersheds work together to protect land, provide habitat, catch water and feed it into the ground, keep streams clean by holding earth in place, etc. It’s a system that will not function well without the trees – or – with only some of the trees. Even carefully designed timber harvests disrupt this system.

If the watershed were healthy in all ways, fish were safe here and reproducing at normal levels, water was plentiful and clean…perhaps there would be good reasons to consider cutting down trees for timber. But the current reality is that this watershed is fragile, the fish that depend upon it are even more fragile and many scientists, biologists and environmentalist consider this watershed to be extremely important to the survival of endangered fish. While the biologists want to restore the watershed, Ricioli Ranch wants to harvest its trees. Is the timber from these trees more important than fish, wildlife and plant life, and water?

Many of us who are not scientists but are people who care about protecting fragile eco-systems are very concerned. Any harm that comes to this watershed will only contribute to the demise of fragile fish species, degenerate the water supply to Jenner and haste the destruction of a valuable watershed. We ask that government entities who are in charge of making decisions about harvesting timber, do so with protecting this watershed in mind. Not harvesting its trees.

By Vesta Copestakes


PS.: You may be interested to know that the adjacent neighbor on the west side of Sheephouse Creek has filed Willig Gulch THP #1-08-025SON, which is close to approval. Between these two property owners, they own a large portion of Sheephouse Creek’s watershed. In the last nine years, approximately 25% of the watershed area for Sheephouse Creek has been harvested. The combination of these two harvest plans equals 412 acres total. This represents 20% of the total watershed area (412 logging acres divided by 2,176 watershed acres). The total logged over the last ten years and that to be harvested in the near future equals 45% + of the total watershed area. CDF only looks at the impacts of each plan and does not assess the cumulative effects of multiple plans in the same watershed. CDF did a stream survey in 1996 and some restoration work in Sheephouse Creek in 1997-1998. This means that no one has been checking the stream and banks for soil erosion, turbidity, contaminants,... etc since this period and certainly not since the Coho captive broodstock program has been initiated. This should be brought to the review teams attention.

Wouldn’t it be prudent to look at the combined impacts of these recent THPs as well as the other five previous THP’s in this area’s watershed, during the upcoming pre-harvest inspection of the Ricioli Ranch NTMP? Please submit letters of concern to CDF c/o 135 Ridgeway Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA. 95402

ALSO: a note to Charlotte Ambrose c/o NMFS, 777 Sonoma Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA. 95404-6528 or e-mail to:, asking that NMFS review these THP's in order to protect the species and aid in their recovery. It appears that they are very close to making a determination to review the Ricioli Ranch NTMP, which would be precedent setting for our area, and your letters may be enough to tip the scales in our favor.

Thank you, Mike Keller
"Friends of Sheephouse Creek"