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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Friends of Sheephouse Creek, Sonoma County

“Friends of Sheephouse Creek”

We are today attempting to weigh two sides of an environmental issue. On the one side are the attempts to restore West Coast Salmon populations, protect fishing jobs and rebuild the salmon economy, hopefully returning to work tens of thousands who have lost their jobs in fishing based industries, and create new sustainable, family wage jobs in economically depressed coastal and rural communities. On the other side are the financial interests of a few landowners whose desire to continue logging in an already impaired watershed risks the extinction of fish and animal species, as well as a way of life for the many thousands who today are suffering due to the closure of the salmon fishery.

Today, there are multiple plans affecting the lower Russian River Basin. Several of the streams found here are currently threatened by logging, gravel mining, and timberland conversions. One such creek is Sheephouse Creek, others include Austin Creek, Smith Creek, Kitchen Creek, and Duvoul Creek. To say there will be no significant cumulative or adverse impacts on the environment is simply not true. We need to be looking at the bigger picture and view the Russian River basin as a functioning ecosystem, not just a tributary at a time. Individual timber harvest plans should be considered in the context of a larger forest and planning watershed in which they are located.

If we are ever to restore the salmon and steelhead fisheries of the Russian River, many believe the lower 8-10 miles are key to their survival. Those watershed areas should be off limits to logging in order to give restoration of the fisheries a chance. Sheephouse Creek has been logged multiple times since the turn of the century and its small 2,176 acre watershed has been decimated despite its idyllic appearance today. Species which were once abundant here are now endangered or threatened or no longer exist.

The forester for plan 1-08NTMP-004SON has admitted that Sheephouse Creek has suffered at the hands of poor land use practices, primarily logging. This is well documented in a 1970 and 1996 DFG Stream Survey and these legacy conditions still exist, many created by the same landowners who today are asking that they be allowed to continue logging, despite a pattern of abuse and poor stewardship practices.

In the last 15 years, 37% of the watershed has been impacted by logging. If the two current plans being proposed are approved, 56% of the watershed will have been affected by recent logging. Has Cal Fire visited these past logged areas to assure no adverse impacts have occurred on the already sediment impacted Sheephouse Creek? Until these past plans are revisited, any cumulative impact discussions will be meaningless. And, how can we talk of significant effect and mitigations when no baseline data exists to determine thresholds of significance?

The NTMP #1-08NTMP-004SON fails to fully evaluate its cumulative impacts upon the watershed, whether on or off of the logging site. This is true of its road impacts, especially for the proposed use of the legally contested easement road through private property and along the riparian area of Sheephouse Creek, which it will overburden. While this road may have served as a railroad right of way at the turn of the century, the location of the creek has changed and the existing road is no longer suitable for the proposed use.

Today, there are new sensitivities surrounding watercourses and laws which govern forest roads and logging activities within riparian zones. The plan does not assess the impacts it will have upon the resident family, their house and property, the easement road, and that segment of Sheephouse Creek, which will be most affected by logging traffic. The NTMP fails to evaluate identified alternative roads into the harvest area and the traffic safety of Hwy 116.

This plan features moderate to high erosion areas, slopes steep enough to require cable yarding, extensive road reconstruction and new roads, as well as the use of heavy equipment on the existing seasonal roads within the WLPZ. The plan also sites a log landing within the WLPZ. The plan potentially threatens domestic water supplies and the Russian River Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock program in place in this creek since 2004.

Sheephouse Creek’s headwaters are part of the Jenner Headlands Open Space. It hosts the Coho salmon, the Steelhead trout, the CA Red Legged Frog, the Red Tree Vole, the Northern Spotted Owl and many other plant and animal species which are unique to this area. Sheephouse Creek is part of an ongoing multi million dollar taxpayer funded Coho restoration program. It is proposed for multiple habitat restoration projects this year by Fish and Game, given that funding can be allocated.

Sheephouse Creek is identified by National Marine Fisheries Service as a Core recovery area for Coho salmon and an area for immediate restoration. An emphasis is placed on the decommissioning of high risk roads in these Core areas. The waters of Sheephouse Creek are important to the development of the estuary by the SCWA under mandate of the recently released Biological Opinion. Sheephouse Creek is also designated by the Coastal Commission as a Special Treatment Area.

Per Vesta Copestakes of the West County Gazette - “There is 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, timber harvest plans are being considered by a state agency whose decisions do not seem to reflect the general public interest. Are the people in charge of all these projects talking with each other? Does one side know what the other is doing?” Hopefully, this is why we are talking today…looking for a win-win alternative that makes money for the timber owner, results in a sustainable environmentally conscious timber plan, and satisfies not only the needs and concerns of our group, but protects the goals of the federal, state, local, and private funding partners on behalf of its citizenry.

Thank you,
Mike Keller

- on behalf of the “Friends of Sheephouse Creek”

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