Updated: Dec 21, 2022
On Highway 199, Caltrans is currently logging old-growth redwoods in Jedediah Smith State Park. How are they getting away with this? Caltrans asserts that it does not need to undertake environmental analysis of this tree removal because the trees pose an imminent hazard to the roadway, thereby constituting an exempted “emergency.” While EPIC is sensitive to the need to make sure that trees don’t pose a risk to the roadway, there needs to be a better public process to determine the fate of trees that may have been growing for over 1,000 years and whose removal constitutes an irreplaceable and unmitigatable injury. And without any public process for approval of the logging, there was no opportunity for the public to challenge the action or suggest alternative solutions.
In all other circumstances, the removal of old-growth trees would be characterized as a significant impact, triggering environmental analysis and mitigation measures under the California Environmental Quality Act. Caltrans also knows that removal of old-growth is inherently controversial. Perhaps that is why Caltrans has kept the public in the dark. Road closure bulletins innocuously called this action “tree work,” with no contextualizing information about the kind of trees to be removed.
Here’s what we need: Emails to Caltrans and lots of them. This is not the first time that Caltrans has removed old-growth trees and, without blowback, this could become a repeating problem across state and national parks. With many miles of Caltrans roads through state and national parks, and with the towering height of redwoods allowing for trees to be deemed a “hazard” far from the roadway, loose and permissive tree removal could result in significant loss of old-growth redwoods.
EPIC is not opposed to hazard tree removal. We believe, however, a better process is necessary when deciding the fate of ancient redwoods, with an understanding that some circumstances may demand immediate action. It is unclear to us whether these trees were an immediate risk and if any alternative measures were considered prior to tree removal. This is due in part to CalTrans' rushed and inscrutable process for selecting these trees. Before any more ancient redwoods are harvested on State Parks or National Park lands, we need to ensure that the process is opened to the public and has strong safeguards in place.