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NTMP FDQ: Frequently Dodged Questions

The NTMP group has produced a FAQ—a list of answers to questions that, in their judgement, are asked frequently.

This is a complementary list: a list of questions that ought to be asked about this project, or about questionable statements made by its supporters.

  1. Is it too late to object?

  2. The TPZ in CTPZ stands for “Timber Production Zone.” Does that require us to produce timber?

  3. Didn't someone state authoritatively that the CTPZ was never a preserve?

  4. Don't second-growth redwood forests require thinning for their own health?

  5. Isn't our particular forest sick?

  6. The forester says his plan will grow bigger trees faster. Isn't that a good thing?

  7. What harm does it do to cut down some trees and sell them?

  8. Why not just try it and see how it goes?

  9. Isn't it hypocritical to use wood but oppose logging?

  10. We have to do something for fire safety. What should we do instead?

  11. What about the erosion problems?

1. Is it too late to object?

No. The Sea Ranch BoD has authorized the NTMP group to submit their proposal to regulatory authorities. But that is not the final word on logging our central forest.

No logging contracts have been signed.

The 2015-16 Sea Ranch budget, also approved by the BoD, contains an overview headed “Non-Industrial Timber Harvest Plan for the CTPZ” (here, Harvest seems to be a Freudian slip for the official term Management).

In that overview (p. 17) appears the statement: “...creating the plan does not mandate a harvest.”

Thus, the assertion that it is too late to object is not a statement about what's possible. It can only be one of two things: an admission of obstinacy, or a deliberate attempt to mislead in order to discourage opposition.

It is not too late. But it is very late. Proponents of logging the CTPZ have been hard at work since at least 2009, so there's a lot of organizational momentum, and they are hoping to start logging during 2016.

If you object, make that known to the Board now. See ACTION.

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2. The TPZ in CTPZ stands for “Timber Production Zone.”
Does that require us to produce timber?

No. TPZ is a state tax designation that saves landowners money in exchange for promising to restrict use of the land to a certain list of activities. Logging is the primary contemplated use, but it is not required. The County of Sonoma has a handout that makes this very clear (here's a copy obtained by Sandy Hughes). From that document:

Permitted uses include:
...
(c) Recreational and educational uses, with or without fee, not requiring any permanent improvement of the land ...

The 2013 McBride report also makes it clear (p. 39) that it is easy to change this designation, should we want to (though there's no real need): “Landowners may withdraw from the program at any time, but must pay back taxes on the land if they withdraw before an agreed upon period of time.”

What would those back taxes be? Well, because of its nonprofit status, TSR taxes on commons are zero. And the tax rate on the CTPZ is also zero. The math is left as an exercise for the reader.

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3. Didn't someone state authoritatively that the CTPZ was never a preserve?

Yes, someone did. That statement is puzzling, and mistaken. We still have Sea Ranchers who participated in the purchase of the CTPZ, and their memory is quite clear that the intention was to preserve the land from further logging. Susan Clark, who was on the BoD that made the purchase, says: “the purpose for the purchase was to protect the forest from fire by undergrowth management, but let the forest develop on its own.”

The 1993 planning report from when the CTPZ was absorbed into Sea Ranch is filed in the Archives. Its main text begins as follows:

It is the basic recommendation of the committee that the CTPZ be maintained as a forest preserve and that all activities be directed to the preservation and enhancement of its natural environment. No timber production will occur...

The Board formalized that recommendation with Resolution No. 62, also in 1993, which established the CTPZ as a preserve by passing rules to protect it. These rules remained in effect until 2014, when the Board amended them to explicitly exempt an NTMP from the previously enacted protection in its Resolution No. 400.

Thus, the CTPZ was most definitely a preserve for approximately 20 years. We could best honor the legacy of those who incorporated it into the Sea Ranch by restoring that preserve status.

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4. Don't second-growth redwood forests require thinning for their own health?

No. This is standard forestry lore, but it is simply not true for coast redwood forests. The recent paper Restoration of Coast Redwood Forests through Natural Recovery describes a careful empirical study of several second-growth forests that were protected from all logging. Their ages vary between 80 and 160 years. The paper shows that, in that comparatively short timeframe, coast redwood forests manage themselves towards old-growth characteristics, including self-thinning, with no need for human intervention; and that they do this over a span of decades, not millenia. The paper also presents suggestive evidence that the forest-floor plant community does better with no logging.

Other literature also supports this view. See Forest Health for more discussion of this issue.

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5. Isn't our particular forest sick?

Not really. Even the forestry consultants hired by our logging advocates speak to this:

McBride 2013: “The health of the redwood/Douglas-fir forest has remained good” (p. 2). “The conditions of the riparian zones in the upland areas of the Sea Ranch were good.” (p. 34) “In the three years since the 2009 Tunheim report, the forest has grown from 6.4 million board feet to over 7.2 million board feet.” (p. 40)

Matt Greene appendix to McBride 2013, p. 108-109: “This multi-age structure [of the CTPZ forest now] much more closely resembles what the original forest would have looked like, pre-European settlement. The main differences today are that the trees are smaller and there are many more per acre.” (But we have already seen, in FDQ-4 above, that second-growth coastal redwood forests can manage these issues on their own.)

Matt Greene 2013 again: “Currently, the forest as a whole is growing 3.8%, which is very good.”

Tunheim 2009: “The vegetation is typical of forest areas along the north coast; a healthy stand of redwood, with a component of Douglas-fir, white fir, and hemlock.” (p. 6)

Tunheim 2009 again: “The timber stand conditions on the property are good. There is some heart rot on the Douglas-fir and Grand fir, but it is not a significant forest health problem at this time.” (P. 6 again)

Does that sound like a sick forest to you?

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6. The forester says his plan will grow bigger trees faster. Isn't that a good thing?

The forester is likely right that selective logging will produce some bigger trees faster than natural development of the forest.

That's not necessarily a good thing. The taller a redwood, the more it depends on fog for its water needs (Sawyer et al., 2000). But fog is known to be decreasing substantially on our coast as a result of climate change. (Johnstone and Dawson have documented a 33% decline in fog frequency since the early 20th century.) Accelerating the development of greater size may well not be the most adaptive response, in the redwood repertoire, to changing climate conditions. In this period of rapid climate flux, we have no way of knowing. We should not cultivate our forest to shape it to an idealized image based on past conditions; the prudent course is to allow the forest to grow naturally, without cutting off any of the adaptive options the redwood organism possesses.

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7. What harm does it do to cut down some trees and sell them?

Tearing holes in the canopy increases fire risk, by stimulating growth not only of the remaining redwoods, but also of fire-prone brush. Forester Matt Greene (2015) himself made this point in an email responding to questions sent to ntmp@tsra.org:

...the fuel hazard reduction work isnít included in those figures. This is going to be an ongoing expense as most of the species that we are dealing with sprout ... The vegetation within the Central TPZ will need to be treated every 5 to 8 years until the forest can effectively shade out sprouting species on its own.

Moreover, “opening the canopy can increase fire behavior by lowering the moisture content of dead surface fuels and increasing surface windspeed” (Brown et al, 2004).

In the same way as more sunlight recruits fire-prone brush, it also recruits invasive species: “Disturbances, such as ... selective logging, give weedy species ample opportunity to become established.” (Sawyer et al, 2000).

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8. Why not just try it and see how it goes?

The proposed NTMP doesn't include enough data gathering (other than about wood production, and perfunctory endangered-species surveys) to permit judging whether or not the logging was good for the forest. We would need a before-and-after wildlife census (covering all wildlife), studies of soil nutrient levels, soil carbon studies, runoff studies, canopy ecosystem studies, forest-floor vegetation studies (again of all flora, not just endangered species), and probably more. If we can't afford all that, then we have no basis for judging whether or not logging our forest is good for the forest.

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9. Isn't it hypocritical to use wood but oppose logging?

It would be, if we opposed all logging. But that's not the issue here. The issue is whether to turn an existing forest preserve into a tree farm.

Tree farms are necessary and useful, and provide more ecosystem services than tract housing or pavement. But forest preserves provide even more ecosystem services than tree farms, and a forest preserve is far more consistent with the Sea Ranch concept of “living lightly on the land.”

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10. We have to do something for fire safety. What should we do?

The Tunheim 2009 report (56–60) clearly separates logging from fire-safety work. We can start by re-examining Tunheim's fire-safety recommendations.

Tunheim, does not discuss the particulars of how to reduce fuel loads in the forest beyond saying a forester can develop a pre-suppression fire plan. It is worth devoting thought to this issue to give clear guidance to such a forester.

Since forests like ours are naturally fire ecologies, it is instructive to study the effects of fire in similar forests, and design fuel-reduction efforts that mimic those of fire. This means reducing the kinds of vegetation most likely to burn. For a fuller discussion, see Managing the Forest for Fire Safety.

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11. What about the erosion problems?

Nothing requires logging to control the existing erosion problems described in the NTMP. Those eight erosion problems are due to old logging roads. In general, logging, and the road construction to support it, introduce additional risks of erosion. The NTMP specifies mitigation measures for the additional problems; but refraining from causing a problem is far better than mitigating it.

See the discussion in Erosion for more details and references.

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