CalFire and DFG battle over “Late Successional” forest

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Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Late Successional Forest in “Casey NTMP” Mendocino County

As so often happens, the Department of Forestry (Cal Fire) and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) are at loggerheads over protection measures for highly sensitive and rare public trust forest resources.  The case of the “Casey” Non-industrial Timber Management plan (NTMP) provides another example of all that is wrong with the current THP/NTMP review program as administered by Cal Fire.

The “Casey” NTMP is located in southern Mendocino County, approximately five miles southeast of Boonville.  The NTMP contains a stand over which great controversy has ensued.  The stand appears to be an old growth redwood and Douglas fir forest.  This stand does not appear to have been subjected to commercial logging in the past, though this is a point of contention.  The DFG has identified this stand as being “Late Successional Forest” according to the definitions provided in the California Forest Practice Rules.  “Late Successional Forests” are effectively old and complex forest habitats with functional characteristics of old growth forests.  The DFG has also determined that the entire stand represents suitable nesting habitat for Federally-threatened and State-endangered Marbled Murrelets.  Marbled Murrelets are small sea birds that nest in complex old growth forests along the pacific coast from Washington to Central California.

The forester preparing the NTMP is in disagreement with the DFG’s determination that the stand represents a “Late Successional Forest,” and has balked at the protective provisions recommended.  Cal Fire, for its part, disagrees with DFG over the extent of the “Late Successional Forest.”  Cal Fire and the forester for the NTMP recently conducted a second field inspection of the property, while purposefully failing to invite or involve the DFG.  Cal Fire has subsequently determined that some of the stand is “Late Sucessional Forest” according to their interpretation, but still disagrees with the DFG over the actual size and functionality of this forest habitat.

The disagreement between the forester, Cal Fire, and the DFG is significant because the measures recommended by the DFG to protect Marbled Murrelet habitat are only valid during the period  when surveys are required for this species.  If surveys do not detect Marbled Murrelets, the landowner will be allowed to log in the “Late Successional Forest” stand.  Although the forester and the landowner are required to assess the potential cumulative effects of logging this rare and essential forest habitat, there is nothing in state forestry regulations that would prevent commercial logging in this stand. The DFG fears logging will  compromise the utility of the stand for Marbled Murrelets and other “late Successional Forest” dependent species.  Unfortunately, State Forest Practice Rules do not require Cal Fire to incorporate the recommendations of the DFG in approved logging plans.  Thus, Cal Fire can ignore the full extent of the “Late Successional Forest” as identified by DFG.  This would allow logging of larger and older trees in the portions of the stand in dispute.

Old growth and “Late Successional Forests” are extremely rare in Mendocino County, particularly on the private landscape.  The cumulative impact of past and current land use activities has resulted in the list of Marbled Murrelet as “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act,  due largely to cumulative habitat loss.  Protection of remaining Marbled Murrelet habitat is considered essential for the long-term survival of the species, particularly in Mendocino County where habitat is so rare.  The State, and State agencies such as the DFG and Cal Fire have a responsibility under the California Endangered Species Act to provide for the survival, enhancement, and restoration of species such as the Marbled Murrelet.  As such, those agencies have a responsibility to manage for recovery of Marbled Murrelets and their habitat.  EPIC will continue to advocate for protection, restoration, and recovery of Marbled Murrelets and their habitat.