EPIC, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Coast Action Group have filed a lawsuit to stop the Mendocino Redwood Company from logging nearly 1,000 acres of redwood forest in a California watershed that provides habitat for threatened northern spotted owls and fish.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Mendocino County Superior Court, says the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection approved the logging project even though it violates a voter-approved county ordinance intended to reduce fire danger and ignores spotted owl protections required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
“Cal Fire blatantly ignored state and local laws to approve this destructive logging project, so we’re hopeful the court will put an end to it,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The last thing we should be doing in the midst of a climate emergency and an extinction crisis is whacking down magnificent old redwoods, killing tanoaks and jeopardizing the coastal redwood ecosystem.”
The logging project would potentially remove many of the largest trees in the area. Northern spotted owls, protected as threatened in 1990, rely on these trees, but their habitat continues to decline because of commercial logging operations in the redwood region. In 2020 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said northern spotted owls should be reclassified to endangered, but the birds are still awaiting that more protective upgrade.
Many trees were previously set aside to reduce harm from logging practices, but the new logging plan would allow the logging of these large, old trees.
“Mendocino Redwood Company is planning to log large, old trees that are protected under a previous agreement,” said Matthew Simmons, an attorney with the Environmental Protection Information Center. “They shouldn’t log what they’ve promised to protect.”
The project would also kill numerous tanoaks because the tanoaks compete with trees that can be sold for profit. Logging companies kill the tanoaks using a method known as “hack and squirt,” cutting open the tree and injecting herbicide to kill it. In 2016 Mendocino County voters approved Measure V, which prohibits the hack-and-squirt method.
The proposed logging will also further degrade the local watershed, which is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act due to its current condition. Logging causes increased sedimentation and higher water temperatures, which prevent the Big River and its tributaries from being able to support threatened and endangered fish, including coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.
“The Department of Forestry is not following the rules,” said Alan Levine, director of Coast Action Group. “The first step in forest practice reform is being consistent with the Forest Practice Rules and Act.”
The California Environmental Quality Act and the California Forest Practice Act together require logging projects to disclose their potential impacts and to avoid or mitigate any significant harm that logging will cause.
The Mendocino Redwood Company has refused to disclose which large old trees in the project area will be cut down, violating state requirements to protect spotted owls. The company has also refused to comply with Mendocino County’s Measure V.