Indexed News on:

--the California "Mega-Park" Project

Tracking measurable success on preserving and connecting California's Parks & Wildlife Corridors


Monday, March 30, 2009

Mountaintop Vineyards Proposed to Replace Forests on One of the Largest Properties in Sonoma County at the Ironically-named "Preservation Ranch"

This nearly 20,000 acre overcut forest in the Gualala River watershed west of Santa Rosa was until 2004 owned by Coastal Forestlands Ltd. They sold out for $28 million to Premiere Pacific Vineyards of Napa County. Premiere Pacific now proposes to gouge the mountaintops in this forest and create 90 "vineyard estates"on 1860 acres while promising to set aside a forest preservation easement on the rest of the land and donate 220 acres for a county park.

An EIR is in the works, and a public notice requesting comments on Pre-EIR issues came out in July of 2008.

county notice requesting “early consultation from interested parties”: project applicant is operating under 4 named companies: Buckeye Ranch LLC, Fuller Mountain LLC, Hoover Ridge LLC, Bear Flat LLC


see 2/14/2009 letter to CalPERS board:

Note that site is currently green forest lands--not a lot of barren land there...

FROM THE DEVELOPER'S WEBSITE: “Sustainable agriculture on 1860 acres will pay for restoration and protection efforts on over 17,000 acres”

Preservation Ranch is a diverse landscape of 19,652 acres, with steep forested hills, streams, grasslands and oak woodlands whose rugged beauty is marred by many environmental and land use problems. for map of lands to be reforested Revitalized and Protected Forest--Preparing to plant over 1 million trees...Preservation Ranch will revitalize and protect its forest by planting over 1 million trees and by creating a One Forest management plan and conservation easement covering all 14,868 forested acres. Preservation Ranch will donate at least 220 acres to the County of Sonoma to expand the Soda Springs Reserve, an adjacent Sonoma County Park and will create a 5 mile long loop trail. Through permanent conservation easements, Preservation Ranch will create the 2,600 acre Windy Gap Preserve, a wildlife and habitat preserve consisting of Oak woodlands, mixed conifer and oak forests and miles of riparian. This is in addition to 29 miles of added stream protections and 1,800 acres of protections for large trees. Preservation Ranch is a significant portion (10%) of the 300 square mile Gualala River watershed, located in the south-westerly portion of Mendocino and the northwesterly part of Sonoma County, California. The entire river basin is mountainous and rugged, through which the river and numerous tributaries flow in gorge-like valleys with narrow bottom lands. In the Gualala River drainage, there are 75 miles of salmon and 178 miles of steelhead habitat. The timber resource is depleted. Over the last 60 years, the Property was aggressively over-harvested by previous owners leaving the productivity of the forest resources reduced. project application documents—Pre-EIR



on mitigation of impacts from vineyards projects

"Preservation" Ranch -- We Propose a Better Plan. The ironically named "Preservation" Ranch project is the 20,000 acre vineyard conversion project near Annapolis, Sonoma County. Among other environmental impacts, roughly 1700 acres of forest will be permanently converted to vineyards. The project materials are still being submitted to Sonoma County Permits and Resource Management Department, after which the EIR phase will begin. The Redwood Chapter has been following the progress of this project for several years. This Premier Pacific Vineyards investment in deforestation, funded by CalPERS, is being made to support a non-essential agriculture, the production of luxury, high-end wines. Furthermore, the investment bodes to become an exemplar of how our overlogged forests are treated in the future; it is precedent-setting since it is the largest-scale attempted conversion of forest in No. California. In the present political and financial times, when the public and the world are learning the 'inconvenient truths' about global warming and at the same time the world is threatened with grave financial collapses, we do not think CalPERS should be financing such work. Here is our latest letter to the CalPERS Board, in which we suggest that, rather than deforestation, there are other options for managing and restoring over-logged timberlands, such as those employed by the Nature Conservancy for their Garcia River Forest Climate Action Project.

More about "Preservation" Ranch can be found here .

for video on Youtube titled “Worse than a clearcut”

project includes 90 “Vineyard estates”



for list of documents

from 4/30/2008 document

The integrated land use plan establishes the following: (1) 1,861 acres of sustainable vineyards; (2) 14,868 acres of Sustainable Timber Management Area; (3) 2,702 acres of core wildlife habitat called Windy Gap Preserve; (4) a 221-acre expansion of the Soda Springs Reserve; (5) a 5-mile public trail easement; and (6) extinguishment of 97 legal parcels via voluntary merger.

The previous owner, Coastal Forestlands, Ltd. (“CFL”), submitted applications for 178 certificates of compliance (COCs) to the County. In a letter dated July 13, 1995, the County concluded that out of the 178 COCs applied for that 14 would be denied, one had already been issued, and 163 would be issued upon CFL’s request. Of the 163 COCs the County determined could be issued, 158 would be unconditional administrative COCs and five would be conditional COCs. Based upon research of Preservation Ranch’s existing ownership and the Coastal Forestland applications submitted to the County, Preservation Ranch has determined that approximately 160 COC’s are within its existing ownership

The Project proposes to convert 1,671 acres of “timberland” 6 to vineyards plus an additional 190 acres classified as “non-timberland,” i.e. grassland, for a total of 1,861 acres of vineyard. Only a small portion of the overall Property is suitable for high quality vineyards due to soil, slope, and microclimates constraints. Conversion areas are located to avoid environmentally sensitive resources to the greatest extent practicable, and represent the minimum vineyard acreage that is required if the array of public benefits are to be funded….

Over time as new property owners purchase fee title to the individual parcels, they will do so with full knowledge that the area of their Property outside of the designated vineyard footprint is actively managed by the Forest Group. This group will hold the timber rights and manage the forest consistent with a conservation easement that ensures third party oversight of timber management practices to protect environmental resources. Benefits to the property owners include reduced fire risk, enhanced aesthetics and wildlife habitat, and reduced management costs….

The Project includes approximately 40 new 10- to 49-acre-foot water storage reservoirs on the Property. Figure 7 presents the proposed locations. All water for vineyard irrigation for this Project will be supplied by the reservoirs. The use of the reservoirs is intended to eliminate the need to use groundwater for vineyard irrigation. No groundwater or surface water from streams or rivers will be used to fill the reservoirs for irrigation. The vineyards will be irrigated by capturing a small percentage of the annual rainfall as it forms diffuse sheet flow on the vineyard footprint during large storm events (see below). The irrigation demand for the vineyards will be approximately 6 inches per acre per year. Sheet flow runoff from a portion of each vineyard site will be collected within the vineyard footprint in a drainage system that will flow by gravity and/or pumped to the reservoirs.

Timber Vs. Grapes-- Preservation Ranch project would include 1,800 acres of vineyards and promises to figure prominently in west Sonoma County supervisorial race

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT, Published: Saturday, August 23, 2008

For the past decade, environmentalists and property owners have looked at the forested hilltops of northwestern Sonoma County and considered from sharply differing viewpoints the land's transformation into terrain for premium wine grapes.

Now the wrangling has begun over upcoming environmental studies that could determine the fate of what would be the largest timberland conversion project in the county's history.

The proposed 19,650-acre Preservation Ranch project is backed by a noted Napa County vintner and a $200 million investment in his company by the state's public employee retirement system.

The proposal would include planting more than 1,800 acres of vineyards on hilltops scattered across 30 square miles outside Annapolis.

Already the project has consumed roughly $5 million for consultants' studies, even though the official environmental impact report has yet to get under way. That report is expected to cost an additional $1 million to $2 million and could take two years to complete...

"This is a good place to draw the line in the sand," said Jay Halcomb, chairman of the Sierra Club's Redwood Chapter...

The land in question was heavily logged in earlier decades, and project developers said the property has little timber value because it could be years before it could be harvested.

The recent history of plans for the vast expanse is noteworthy in part for the participation of former county officials.

In 1999, a former owner proposed planting up to 10,000 acres of grapes across an even greater swath of the area's timberland. A project consultant was former west county Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, now listed as a principal endorser of west county supervisorial candidate Rue Furch.

In 2004, Premier Pacific purchased the nearly 20,000 acres for $28.5 million. Among the consultants for Preservation Ranch is another former west county supervisor, Eric Koenigshofer, a leading supporter of west county supervisorial candidate Efren Carrillo.

Carrillo said the burden is on Premier Pacific to show a public benefit, and he won't make up his mind on Preservation Ranch before the environmental report is completed. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrillo won the election)...

Premier Pacific was created by longtime Napa vintner William Hill, who previously developed and sold William Hill Winery, and Bay Area real estate investment firm owner Richard Wollack.

Their company has focused on creating high-end vineyards, some 30 properties in three states. The company also has obtained the $200 million investment from CalPERS, the state workers' retirement system.

One of its projects is a 27-acre vineyard and reservoir within the Preservation Ranch boundaries. The pinot noir vineyard didn't require a similar county review, Adams said, because the land previously had been an orchard with old homesteads, not timberland.

For the past 18 months, Premier Pacific and the county have been making revisions and reviewing the development application. Last month, the county deemed the application complete and sent out notices to 20 state and federal agencies and three dozen community groups.

The groups have until Sept. 8 to provide initial input. After that, another round of discussions will begin on exactly what the environmental report should study.

The developers propose to manage 15,000 acres of forest lands after planting 1 million new redwoods, Douglas fir and sugar pines.

Sedimentation into the Gualala River from old logging roads and landslides would be reduced, Adams said. Fish and wildlife habitat would be enhanced, and a 2,700-acre preserve would be established.

Nearly 100 of the 163 potential home sites would be eliminated by merging parcels, he said. The project proposes building farmworker housing for 35 families, but has no development plans for the roughly 60 parcels where a home could be allowed.

By approving Preservation Ranch, Adams said, the county would be "basically giving up some marginal timber ground on the ridge tops" for vineyards. In return it would allow the land's restoration "so it becomes the forest that everyone wants to see."

Leaders of environmental groups dismiss the suggestion that a vineyard project is necessary to bring about the restoration of timberlands.

The proposal would "forever change the forest out here and destroy a lot of it," said Chris Poehlmann, vice president of the Friends of the Gualala River.

Critics maintain that adding the proposed vineyards would remove trees that hold carbon from the atmosphere, reduce the capacity of the land to slowly release water to streams in summer and remove water for grapes from the aquifer and streams. Some also question how the region's winding back roads could accommodate trucks carrying the grapes at crush time from 1,800 acres of vineyards.

The project will be judged according to the county's timberland conversion ordinance, which allows vineyards among forests if the developer sets aside other land in permanent conservation easements and if the county deems the development offers an adequate public benefit.

Mike Reilly, the retiring west county supervisor who is backing Furch, said he has "serious concerns" about the Preservation Ranch project, and the benefits needed for approval should be "pretty significant."

The basic question, Reilly said, is "are folks willing to trade off redwood forests for wine?"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Right to File Lawsuit Based on Affidavit of Frequent National Forest Visitor Over Now-Cancelled Logging Plan

By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal,


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that environmental groups don't have standing to challenge Forest Service comment regulations for small projects based on an affidavit of a member who frequently visits the National Forests. The 5-4 decision (PDF) will make it more difficult to challenge federal regulations governing timber sales and other forest policies, the Associated Press reports. The case before the Supreme Court concerned a regulation exempting smaller fire-rehabilitation planning projects from public input requirements. The Sierra Club and four other environmental groups had challenged both the public comment exemption and Forest Service plans to salvage timber from a fire in the Sequoia National Forest, but settled the latter suit. As a result of the settlement, the plaintiffs did not suffer a concrete injury giving them standing to pursue the comments case, the Supreme Court ruled. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion. "The requirement of injury in fact is a hard floor of Article III jurisdiction that cannot be removed by statute," he wrote. Scalia said the environmental groups had submitted two affidavits before the settlement was reached by members who claimed to be affected by the Forest Service decisions. The first affidavit, he said, was related to the settled case and could not be used to challenge the comment regulations. The second affidavit was filed by an environmentalist, Jim Bensman, who said he had visited many National Forests and planned to visit many more in the future. Scalia wrote that the affidavit required too many assumptions. "Here we are asked to assume not only that Bensman will stumble across a project tract unlawfully subject to the regulations, but also that the tract is about to be developed by the Forest Service in a way that harms his recreational interests, and that he would have commented on the project but for the regulation," Scalia wrote. Scalia rejected a standing test offered by the dissenters that would rely on a realistic threat that the challenged activity would reoccur and cause harm to the plaintiffs in the reasonably near future. "The dissent proposes a hitherto unheard-of test for organizational standing: whether, accepting the organization's self-description of the activities of its members, there is a statistical probability that some of those members are threatened with concrete injury," he wrote. "This novel approach to the law of organizational standing would make a mockery of our prior cases."

The case is Summers v. Earth Island Institute.


"The Burnt Ridge project is now off the table," Justice Antonin Scalia noted from the bench Tuesday morning. "The parties settled, the timber sale is not going to happen and the (environmentalists) can no longer claim that they are at risk of injury from it."

The 15,000-member Earth Island Institute had joined others, including the much-smaller Sequoia ForestKeeper, with 100 or so members, to challenge Forest Service plans for logging on Burnt Ridge. The 238-acre region burned during a large forest fire in the summer of 2002.

more background:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wildlands Conservancy Saves 5832 Acre Ranch in Northern Mendocino County

The Wildlands Conservancy acquired the 5,832-acre Spy Rock Ranch. The scenic Spy Rock Preserve has five miles of Eel River frontage and draws its name from the 540-foot conical rock promontory that rises from its eastern shore. It is 11 air miles northwest of Covelo in pastoral Round Valley and 10 river miles from Dos Rios (and 14 miles straight east from the town of Leggett and highway 101) . The habitat is a mosaic of white oak, live oak, maple, and bay laurel woodlands, grasslands and clustered stands of fir. From dramatic rock outcroppings to year-round creek bottoms roam abundant wildlife including deer, mountain lions, bears, and bobcats. Bald eagles, osprey, and Pacific pond turtles occur on the river frontage. Anadromous fish species include chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead trout.


$2.9 million

"The Spyrock Ranch is approximately 5,832 acres of beautiful hill land fronting approximately four miles of the Eel River, providing a remote paradise for the nature lover, outdoor sportsman, or trail rider.
Spyrock Ranch is just north of Round Valley, which is often referred to as "Nature's Hideaway." Some 160 miles north of San Francisco, Round Valley is the largest area of flat land in Mendocino County. Noted for its picturesque landscapes and towering valley oaks, Round Valley is the western entrance to the Mendocino National Forest and Yolla Bolly Wilderness. A 3,300+/- foot paved and night-lighted runway provides easy access into the valley for private aircraft.
The ranch is located in Mendocino County, nine miles north of Dos Rios on the Eel River and 11 air miles northwest of Covelo in Round Valley. Travel to the Ranch is by county road north of Covelo, then through neighboring ranches on dirt roads, to the Ranch's eastern boundary line. Travel time from Covelo to the Ranch gate is about one hour."
Dedicated to remembering how it was “back then”, and Tales about the Eel River Valley, and the wisdom of the people that live there.


Senator Feinstein Wants Energy Plans Halted on Desert Lands that were Donated for Preservation

excerpted from

By: Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office

(lands in red and purple are the Wildlands Conservancy donation parcels. Click on map to enlarge)

Washington, DC Mar. 18, 2009 - U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, today announced her intention to introduce new legislation to establish a national monument to preserve hundreds of thousands of acres in the Mojave Desert. The former Catellus lands were previously donated to or by purchased by the Department of the Interior for conservation.

"The former Catellus lands between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park were purchased by or donated to the federal government so they would be protected forever. I feel very strongly that the federal government must honor that commitment," Senator Feinstein said.

"That's why I am very concerned about wind and solar development proposals intended for these lands. I'm a strong supporter of renewable energy and clean technology -- but it is critical that these projects are built on suitable lands. The former Catellus lands shouldn't be eligible for development.

So, I intend to introduce new legislation to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of these former railroad lands through a national monument designation. This would provide lasting protection for these lands and prevent development, while allowing existing uses to continue. I also intend to work with local stakeholders to determine whether other local desert lands may be suitable for federal protection at this time.

These former Catellus land acquisitions were financed by $40 million in private donations from The Wildlands Conservancy, $18 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations and approximately $5 million in a price reduction from Catellus, a real estate subsidiary of the former Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroad. The private parties contributed this large sum of money in the belief that this land will be protected and conserved. Building huge solar facilities on these lands is untenable and unacceptable. Bottom line: the former Catellus lands must be protected from development."

Senator Feinstein recently expressed her concerns about development proposals intended for the former Catellus lands in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which is available below.

Protecting the Former Catellus Lands

The national monument designation would ensure that hundreds of thousands of acres between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve are protected in perpetuity. Large-scale development would be prohibited within the monument in order to protect the biological and aesthetic integrity of the region and guarantee public access for hunting, hiking, camping and exploring scenic back roads.

The 600,000 acre Catellus agreement was one the largest nonprofit land acquisition donations to the United States in history. Most of the Catellus lands were acquired and donated to the federal government between 1999 and 2004. It included nearly 100,000 acres of land to the National Park Service, over 210,000 acres in 20 wilderness areas to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and hundreds of thousands of acres of important habitat for threatened and endangered species.

The BLM is currently reviewing 130 applications for solar and wind energy development in the California desert, covering more than 1 million acres of public land. Several of these applications are located in the eastern Mojave Desert on or near property previously owned by Catellus. The California Energy Commission has estimated that approximately 100,000 to 160,000 acres of desert lands would be needed for the state to meet its 33 percent renewable energy goal by 2020.

Senator Feinstein was the lead sponsor of the 1994 Desert Protection Act, which provided lasting federal protection for nearly 9 million acres of pristine desert land in Southern California. It established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. It remains the largest parks and wilderness bill to impact the lower 48 states.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mercury Rising in S.F. Bay

Is restoring wetlands bad for our health?

excerpted from from Spring 2009 issue of Terrain Magazine
by Eric Simons

for full story:

...Wetland restoration projects, probably the best thing we’ve come up with for cleaning up our bay and mitigating past errors, often make mercury levels worse. But why that is, where it’s happening, and what we can do about it, are still perplexing...

...These are the basics: Mercury gets into the environment in a number of different ways, from natural sources like volcanoes to urban sources like coal-fired power plants or stormwater runoff. In Northern California, mercury was historically used in gold mining, and many of the watersheds in the Sierra and Delta show high levels of mercury from California’s Gold Rush days. Most of the mercury used in gold mining came from mines in the New Almaden area of San Jose, where for decades it has washed down the Guadalupe River and into the southern part of the San Francisco Bay, which still has the highest mercury levels of any part of the bay.

But all this stuff in the air and water is regular ol’ mercury, and one of the odd parts of the puzzle is that regular ol’ mercury isn’t harmful to people or wildlife when it’s in the water. The damaging stuff, the kind that gets into the food chain, is a specific form of mercury called methylmercury. A confounding thing is that there isn’t necessarily a consistent relationship between the amount of mercury in the water, air, and sediment, and the amount of methylmercury in the food chain in that area. It takes a certain kind of bacteria to convert mercury into methylmercury (a process called methylation), and those bacteria are found in areas with lots of vegetation and living organisms. Which is confounding thing number two: In Northern California’s aquatic environments, those areas tend to be wetlands.

Ironically, these areas, which environmentalists have long struggled to save, can create and amplify methylmercury; in some cases restoring wetlands may resolve one eco-hazard while accidentally worsening another. Even stranger, some areas methylate more than others, which has led to delays and confusion about whether to attempt restorations...

Pot Growers Wreak Havoc on North Coast Streams and Fish Populations

excerpted from from spring 2009 issue of Terrain, Northern California’s Environmental Magazine

for full story:

The Long Thirst

At a meeting in Mendocino County’s town of Willits in late October, what seems a fairly narrow topic—illegal water diversion on public lands—rapidly transmogrifies into a frightening evening of dying fish, dry rivers, and out-of-control toxic algae. On that chilly night, the event attracts more than a hundred people covered in fleece outer garments, many wanting to pick a bone with state regulators. It turns out at least one of the speakers has the same agenda....

...Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman supplies the local picture, noting that the county’s per capita sales of rat poison are the highest in the nation; growers buy rat poison by the pallet because watering the grow sites attracts rodents. This poison ultimately contaminates the soil and creeks while poisoning raptors and other animals that eat the dead vermin. DTO growers also routinely shoot wildlife.

Most of all, they consume water. “As you go downstream on the Eel, the river should grow,” says Allman. “Instead, it gets smaller because people are pumping into storage tanks and directly into gardens.” Allman estimates that 3.6 million pot plants are grown on public lands—“That’s 3.6 million gallons of water a day,” he says, “pumped out of our creeks and rivers.” Allman pledges to respond to anonymous GPS reports of pumps and hose: “I’ll pull pumps,” he promises. “We’ll fly tributaries. I want to see the salmon come back.”

...Higgins, from Arcata’s Kier Associates, comes armed with graphs showing the number of illegal diversions and dams outnumber permitted diversions all along the North Coast and in Napa and Lake counties.

Higgins recalls fishing in Mendocino County’s Outlet Creek during the ‘60s, when it was loaded with steelhead. By 1996, because of illegal drafting, parts of the creek were dry in the summer, stranding fish in deep pools—pools from which diesel pumps lift water daily. Higgins says there are 1,700 illegal diversions in Marin County alone. Flyovers show illegal ponds everywhere, for vineyards and other agricultural uses. The Napa River used to have Coho salmon, the Navarro is dry, and so is the Gualala. Creeks dry between pools that often become clogged with algae that grows in the too-warm, too-still water. When the algae blooms, it releases a nerve toxin that has poisoned dogs and wildlife....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Web Tool makes it easier to explore Southwest SF Bay Open Spaces

Powered by Google maps, you can zoom in on aerial images and topographic maps showing the boundaries of the 57,000 acres of public parklands owned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
Threat Resurfaces to Whittier-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor in L.A.

from Winter 2009 newsletter


The proposed Pacific Heights subdivision in Hacienda Heights has sprung to life again. The developer hopes to create 47 single family lots on 114 acres next to Schabarum Park and within the Powder Canyon Significant Ecological Area. They would need to grade over one million cubic yards of dirt and remove 126 oak trees while also encroaching into a protected zone to remove another 20 oak trees. Access to the housing project will be through Apple Creek Lane.

The Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report is available at:

The project number is 92-027 and comments are due March 18th to:


An elevated highway in the median of the 91 freeway has been proposed as one way to address the traffic congestion in the narrow Santa Ana Canyon. The Riverside County Transportation Commission staff proposed the entry and exit structure to this elevated freeway be placed directly over the Coal Canyon Wildlife Corridor. This proposed placement has just been dropped from consideration after strong objections from Park supporters.


In March 2008, Hills For Everyone sued Metropolitan Water District (MWD) and State Parks over a planned access road through the State Park and up a steep walnut woodland to the MWD plant in Yorba Linda. We settled the lawsuit with MWD. Although a road will be built into Telegraph Canyon, we will also be able to expand the State Park to protect many more acres of walnut woodland than will be destroyed by the road.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Groups Seek Federal Funds for Sierra Nevada Checkerboard Buyout

Tahoe National Forest, CA
Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Project Need: $8 million
Acreage: 7,000

In the 19th century, in order to spur the construction of transcontinental railroads between the Pacific coast and the Mississippi valley, the federal government granted land to the railroads in alternating square miles. This “checkerboard” pattern of land ownership presents numerous challenges to landowners and managers. Fragmented ownership challenges public efforts in the
Sierra checkerboard to fight fires and to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, recreational access, and scenic views. The LWCF, in conjunction with state and philanthropic funds, is the primary federal tool in these efforts.

Acquisitions in the Sierra are focused on lands rich in natural resources: those that include or abut wild and scenic rivers, recreational trails, and wildlife migration corridors. Upcoming projects include parcels located in the watersheds of the North Fork American and the Yuba rivers. These and other Sierra rivers provide Californians with 60% of their water supply and support increasingly threatened fisheries and riparian corridors vital to wildlife. The parcels are also recreational attractions for winter sports enthusiasts, anglers, and hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and at nearby lakes. Perhaps the greatest value of consolidated ownership lies in the preservation and restoration of intact ecosystems and watersheds, which are more likely to allow varied species to successfully adapt to the expected impacts of climate change. Sensitive species such as the American marten and Sierra Nevada red fox depend on habitat connectivity for their survival. Unfragmented forests recover faster and have significantly reduced damage costs from wildfires.

The Sierra’s natural resources have a profound impact on the entire state of California, and consolidation of the checkerboard is a multiyear effort that will eventually protect over 100,000 acres in partnership with federal, state, local, and private entities...

Alan Front, Senior Vice President of The Trust for Public Land (TPL) emphasized the wide array of public interests and benefits provided by LWCF. The LWCF is the premier program to fund land purchases across our nation's national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, national scenic and historic trails and other federal lands. The state grants component of the LWCF provides critical assistance to state and local parks for land protection and infrastructure needs. The Forest Legacy program awards grants to states to assist in the protection of working forest and recreation lands through purchases of land and conservation easements. Mr. Front emphasized the availability of a dedicated funding stream for the LWCF program from revenues the federal government receives from the leasing of oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). This funding has been diverted to other uses. Authorized by Congress to receive $900 million annually, the LWCF has reached full funding of $900 million per year only once in its forty-four year history.
Water Board Decision May Force Klamath Dams Removal
By Greg King

excerpted from the March 2009 issue of EcoNews

California decided late last month that PacifiCorp will not be allowed to side-step provisions of the federal Clean Water Act that require dam owners to obtain a “clean water permit” before their projects can be relicensed.

In a much-anticipated decision, the California State Water Resources Control Board announced its intention to move forward with the creation of a draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) to evaluate the water quality behind PacifiCorp’s three dams in California.The board’s decision was a setback to the energy company’s attempt to delay the required processing of its application for a federal clean water permit, known as a “401” permit. PacifiCorp has said it may withdraw from dam negotiations if the company is required to concurrently fund the 401 process and the negotiations. The delay was requested by several, but not all, parties negotiating with PacifiCorp to remove four dams on the main stem of the Klamath River. Few observers believe that the water behind PacifiCorp’s three dams in California — Iron Gate, Copco I and Copco II — can qualify for a 401 permit, given levels of toxic microcystin that measure 4,000 times higher than what the World Health Organization has deemed a “moderate” human health risk.

No Permit, No DamsWithout the permit, PacifiCorp will not be issued a new license to operate the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, which could lead to decommissioning and removal of the dams. ..
The Other Big Timber Company in Humboldt has big plans, too

excerpted from the March 2009 issue of EcoNews, published by the Northcoast Environmental Center:

By Sarah O'Leary
Twenty years ago, when the so-called “timber wars” raged on the North Coast, pitting those who worked in the woods against those who wished to preserve the forests, the big timber companies emerged as the “bad guy” in the eyes of many.

Since then, many of these companies have worked hard both to upgrade their image and to improve their forestry practices. Some companies changed their name to reflect their new image; Pacific Lumber became Palco and was subsequently purchased by Humboldt Redwood Company, and Simpson morphed into Green Diamond. In May 2004, the Seattle-based Simpson Resource Company created Green Diamond as an offshoot and transferred ownership of around 450,000 acres of California redwood timberlands. (Editor's note: located in both Humboldt and Del Norte Counties)

Although the Simpson name was reviled in some circles due to public opposition to large clear-cuts and old-growth logging, especially around the area that is now Redwood State and National Parks, the company has received little scrutiny under its new alias.

However, in recent months, local residents and activists have challenged various Green Diamond timber harvest plans. The McKay Tract adjacent to Cutten in Eureka has been the subject of a series of opinion columns in the local media, most written by outraged neighbors who do not want to see the area logged and/or developed and environmentalists concerned about the impact on life in this sensitive ecosystem. ...

...The McKay Tract totals 7,200 acres. In the letter, Green Diamond stated that “442 acres are suitable for residential and/or commercial purposes,” and that 256 acres have already been re-zoned. According to Dyer, Green Diamond has already received approval to clear-cut a portion of this and may begin any day.The company has also identified over 2,000 acres in McKinleyville and 565 acres in Westhaven for potential development, as well as 207 acres between Highway 101 and Strawberry Rock...
Courtroom Battles that Affect all of California:

CA Supreme Court Denounces Conditional Approval of Projects before Conducting Environmental Review

By: Jan Chatten-Brown of Chatten-Brown and Carstens,

In a landmark ruling, Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood (2008) 45 Cal.4th 116, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a ruling by the Court of Appeal that the City of West Hollywood violated the CEQA when it approved a redevelopment project before completing the EIR for the project, and that making the approval conditional upon subsequent preparation of an EIR did not cure the defect. The case has profound implications for when public agencies must conduct CEQA review.

Save Tara, the Plaintiff, argued that by approving a residential development project, even though conditioned on subsequent environmental review, the City of West Hollywood effectively predetermined the outcome of the later environmental review. The Supreme Court agreed. The Court stressed that merely conditioning an approval on subsequent review would undermine the purposes of CEQA, which is both to protect the environment and to ensure government accountability. By committing its resources and prestige to the project, the City undermined the integrity of the subsequent review process. “Rather than a document of accountability…the EIR may appear, under these circumstances, a document of post hoc rationalization.” The Supreme Court also indicated that courts must closely scrutinize agency decisions on the timing of the environmental review process: “an agency has no discretion to define approval so as to make its commitment to a project precede the required preparation of an EIR.”

Jan Chatten-Brown, a PCL Regional Vice President and founder of the environmental law firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens in Santa Monica, who successfully litigated the case, stated “Increasingly, public agencies have sought to move projects forward before conducting environmental review, thus shutting the public out of a key part of the decisionmaking process, and creating irresistible momentum for many projects. The Court’s decision rejects such pre-review commitment to projects and provides guidance for planning processes by public agencies large and small throughout the state. In reaching its decision, the Court reiterated that the review must be conducted before a commitment to the project is made.”

The Court did not establish a “bright line” rule against conditional agreements, but rather said courts must consider all of the circumstances when determining whether an agency had gone too far in its approval process before conducting CEQA review. However, as a practical matter, the manner in which the Court applied its principles to the facts of the Save Tara case should have the effect of discouraging agencies from using conditional agreements. Most importantly, as at least one Court of Appeal has now recognized, the Supreme Court in Save Tara limited the application of a number of earlier Court of Appeal decisions that had been relied upon by public agencies to allow approval of aspects of projects before environmental review was conducted.

The Supreme Court’s decision also rejected the City’s claim that its after-the-fact preparation of an EIR had rendered the case moot. The Court noted that the City had not taken any irreversible physical or legal decisions since the EIR was prepared, and that it must reconsider its decisions after it has the benefit of an environmental evaluation. Therefore, the Plaintiff could still obtain the relief it sought.


Obama Announces Endangered Species Act Rescue

3/6/2009--Our country's best wildlife law will soon rise from the ashes of its Bush administration near-demise, according to a Tuesday memorandum issued by President Obama announcing he'll rescind Bush's rules eviscerating the Endangered Species Act. The undoing of the rules means that thousands of potentially species-harming federal activities exempted by Bush from independent review -- including activities generating greenhouse gases -- will again be the rightful subjects of scientific scrutiny by federal agencies. A full defeat of the rules may require more action by the new administration, but Tuesday's announcement is an essential first step. The Senate is now considering a bill that would let the Obama administration, with the stroke of a pen, rescind both Bush's Endangered Species Act changes and a special rule weakening protections for the polar bear.

When Bush's Endangered Species Act regulations were finalized in December, the Center for Biological Diversity was already in court to fight them. We're glad to see scientists back in the driver's seat for endangered-species management and hope Obama will fully rescind both the Endangered Species Act changes and the polar bear rule.

Read more in the Washington Post.

Other Sources of Environmental Law--some from the dark side...

takings by michael berger-Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Bargaining for Development: A Handbook on how government cuts deals with developers:,M1

CEQA : Abbott & Kindermann Land Use Law Blog

A year in review of CEQA for 2008:


Land trusts have a critical role to play in protecting lands in their natural state to diminish greenhouse gas emissions. CPC drafts each of its conservation easements to take global warming into account.

Capturing the Value of Appreciated
Development Rights On Conservation
Easement Termination


Cleaning Up L.A. Stormwater Pollution Creates 2 New Parks

Chavez Recreational Facility Turns Trash into Treasure

It may be hard to believe that a municipal landfill could one day be transformed into a public park that helps reduce water pollution and increase water supply, but it’s true. The former Sheldon Arleta-Landfill is in the throes of a major conversion that will turn this Los Angeles landfill into a multi-use recreational space that will simultaneously clean up the area’s runoff. It will be named after labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.

City officials and local residents gather for the site’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Once completed, the 44-acre Cesar Chavez Recreational Complex in Sun Valley will not only restore ground water supplies and clean up dirty urban runoff, but also provide the public with basketball courts, baseball fields, bike paths, picnic tables, children’s play areas, and other community amenities. Divided into three phases of construction, the project utilizes the forward thinking idea of retooling an existing City facility into a park with the capacity to provide much-needed green space, recharge ground water levels and reduce polluted urban runoff flowing into the LA River.

Phase I of the project is nearing completion. It will restore the water spreading capacity in the adjacent Tujunga Spreading Grounds, currently operated by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, by renovating the existing landfill gas collection system. “Since Phase I is directly related to the improvement of water quality, the Proposition O Clean Water Bond program provided more than $3 million dollars to support this phase,” states Cynthia M. Ruiz, president of the Board of Public Works and Proposition O Administrative Oversight Committee member. “Directing stormwater runoff from rainwater into the ground also provides much needed relief for local potable water demands,” continued Ruiz.

Early estimates show that this project will significantly increase the water spreading activities at the Tujunga Spreading Grounds from the current 11,000 acre-foot/year up to 22,000 acre-foot/year in capturing the rainwater. An added bonus will be the use of the captured rainwater to irrigate the city-block-sized park using enhanced irrigation methods.

Phase II of the project will consist of extensive grading and earthwork to establish proper drainage pathways for the complex, and Phase III will involve the development of the large park and recreational areas. In addition to Proposition O, the project is also being funded by Proposition K, Proposition 40, Proposition 12, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the Urban Development Action Grant Program.


South Los Angeles Wetlands Park Project

Using 9 acres owned by the MTA


- SCCWRP's March 2008 study on treatment wetlands:
(takes awhile to load)

Two Big Fights over Development on Gaviota Coastline in Santa Barbara


The Haskell's Landing development site is next to the Sperling Ellwood Mesa Preserve and is a very important open space for Goleta.

2/10/2009--Planning Commission deadlocked at 2-2 vote, sends matter to City Council : Haskell’s Landing is a 100-unit project proposed just north of Sandpiper Golf Course, south of Highway 101 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. It is the latest incarnation of a series of proposals for residential projects in that roughly 14.5-acre lot, the most recent of which was Residences at Sandpiper, which was the subject of a fierce legal battle between the applicant and Goleta’s charter City Council.

...Opinions were about evenly divided among the public in the hearing room. Environmentalists urged the commission to keep the current 100-foot creek buffer zone rule, while other community members argued that the work the developer proposes to do would improve the creek over and above its current state.

for documents on project:



excerpted from:

Santa Barbara, CA – On March 3, 2009, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors revisited a controversial proposal to develop more than 70 estates at Naples on the Gaviota Coast; by voting to reject an amendment to the Santa Barbara Ranch project Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Board sent a clear signal that 2008 project approvals may not be set in stone.

The March 3 hearing was scheduled to address Brown Act violations alleged to have occurred in an October 2008 closed session decision. In October, the Board had voted in closed session to amend a 2002 MOU between the County and the Santa Barbara Ranch project applicants. The MOU amendment allowed for sequenced processing of the project’s inland and coastal portions, and the amended MOU was referenced extensively in the Board’s later approval of the Santa Barbara Ranch project. The Environmental Defense Center (EDC), Surfrider Foundation and the Naples Coalition argued, at the time, that the closed session decision was a clear violation of the state’s Brown Act open government laws.

In February 2009, the new Board of Supervisors accepted culpability for the October action and voted to cure the alleged Brown Act violations. A legal effect of this decision was to rescind the 2008 amendment to the Santa Barbara Ranch MOU. The Board then scheduled a re-hearing for March 3 on whether to adopt the proposed amendment in an open public session.

The MOU amendment would have allowed development on Santa Barbara and the adjoining Dos Pueblos Ranches north of Highway 101 to proceed before final approvals for the entire project had been granted by the California Coastal Commission. After considering the many reasons why it is important to keep the proposed project whole, the Board voted 3-1-1 to reject the MOU amendment. The motion to reject the MOU revisions was made by 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr; 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray abstained from the vote. According to County Counsel, the pre-amended 2002 MOU governing Santa Barbara Ranch is now in effect

The Board’s actions have triggered several reactions from the Santa Barbara Ranch applicants, including an initial decision to terminate the MOU entirely and to reject approvals for
development south of Highway 101. According to the applicant, this would result in more intense development on the coastal bluff. Meanwhile, the applicant intends to barrel ahead with development of the inland project. On March 3, however, County Counsel indicated that these reactions are not permissible. EDC, Surfrider and the Naples Coalition have pointed out that all of the project approvals were contingent on a purported “global resolution” of the land use issues at Naples. If the applicants follow through with their threats, it will unravel any resolution that has been achieved to date.....
Approval of Santa Margarita Ranch Development by Outgoing SLO County Sup's Brings Lawsuit

excerpted from:

1/26/2009-As they threatened to do during contentious hearings on the Santa Margarita Ranch last year, opponents of the development have sued the county for approving the project, calling it inconsistent with federal and state law and the county General Plan.

The Board of Supervisors’ Dec. 23 approval of the ranch project was “a betrayal of the public trust and an abuse of discretion,” according to Michael Fitts of the Endangered Habitats League, a Los Angeles nonprofit organization. The league joined North County Watch, a Templeton-based environmental nonprofit group, in filing suit in Superior Court on Monday.

The groups have also alleged that the findings in an environmental analysis are legally flawed. Both groups are asking the court to set aside the county’s approval of the environmental impact report, tract map and permit that flowed from the supervisors’ decision...

The portion of the Santa Margarita Ranch proposal approved last month would put an estimated 300 people in 111 homes on 1-to 1.5-acre lots in a 3,778-acre agricultural cluster subdivision.

That phase is part of a larger development on the 14,000-acre ranch, one that could create wineries, more than 500 homes, houses of worship, an amphitheater, a golf course, a horse ranch, a livestock sales yard, a guest ranch, a bed and breakfast, a sewage treatment plant, cemetery expansion, restaurants, craft studios, galleries and shops, among other components.

other news coverage:
More on the Expansion of SLO's Montana de Oro State Park

for full press release:

San Luis Obispo, California — December 5, 2008 — The Nature Conservancy and California State Parks today announced the protection of Andre Ranch, a 1,902-acre property located in the Irish Hills. Working closely with the Andre family, The Nature Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on approximately 1,172 acres of the ranch to permanently protect it from development. State Parks’ acquisition of the remaining 730 acres at the southern part of the ranch will be added to Montaña de Oro State Park and will be open for public access.

The Andre family will continue ranching operations that are consistent with maintaining healthy wildlife habitats and a clean water supply system. This is the latest in a series of joint projects between The Nature Conservancy and State Parks that have conserved over 3,200 acres of rolling hills, diverse coastal habitat and pristine watersheds in the region. More than 2,000 acres have been added to Montaña de Oro State Park and will be part of a 20-mile coastal trail planned by State Parks. An additional 1,500 acres jointly owned by The Nature Conservancy and Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County is currently proposed to be acquired by State Parks....


Friends of the River goes to court for River in Ventura County

January 2009--Friends of the River and California Trout filed suit in state court last week to protect a popular trout fishing stream in southern California stream that also provides critical habitat for several endangered species. At stake is Piru Creek in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. It is one of only three catch and release cold-water trout streams in southern California and a proposed Wild and Scenic River.

The lawsuit was filed against the California Water Resources Board, which issued a Clean Water Act permit allowing the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to virtually dewater Piru Creek downstream of Pyramid Dam (a component of the State Water Project). DWR’s proposed flow reduction is intended to limit non-native species such as bullfrogs that feed on the endangered arroyo toad....

The Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act would protect 7.5 miles of Piru Creek in northern Los Angeles County as a Wild & Scenic River. This bill is currently pending in Congress. The California Wild Heritage Act, which was last introduced in 2007, proposes to add 54 miles of Piru Creek to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.

How To Get There
Take the Templin Highway exit from I-5 (about 15 miles north of Santa Clarita and south of Gorman). Follow the highway (route of old I-5) down to the parking area next to Piru Creek. From the parking area, anglers and families may stroll along the old (now closed) highway two miles upstream to Pyramid dam. More experienced hikers may choose to explore the trail-less canyon downstream into the Sespe Wilderness, which requires frequent stream crossings and an occasional swim.

Read more, click here:

Boy Scouts Get Criticism for Land Management from greens

Boy Scouts Criticized for Clear-Cutting some of their properties

originally reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

...But in recent decades, local Boy Scout councils around the nation have ordered clear-cutting or other high-impact logging on tens of thousands of acres of forestland they own, often in a quest for a different kind of green: cash.

A Hearst Newspapers investigation has found dozens of cases in which the scouts ordered the logging of prime woodlands or sold them to big timber interests and developers, turning quick money instead of seeking ways to save the trees....

...But the investigation - a nationwide review by five newspapers of more than 400 timber harvests, court papers, property records, tax filings and other documents since 1990 - also found that:

-- Scout councils have ordered the logging of more than 34,000 acres of forests - perhaps far more, as forestry records nationwide are incomplete.


Scouts get heat over steelhead trout deaths at Monterey’s Little Sur river

2/1/2009--The Boy Scouts of America's Monterey Bay Area Council operated a summer dam on a pristine river and - despite official warnings - allegedly killed federally protected steelhead trout downstream.

And when state and federal regulators sought to have the council stop using the dam, Scout executives turned to politicians to whom they had given campaign contributions or with whom they had personal ties.

The Scout council avoided fines and quietly secured a favorable settlement agreement that, until now, has obscured a full account of their conduct at Camp Pico Blanco on the Little Sur River, north of the rugged Big Sur coast...

...The Little Sur River winds some 23 miles down the slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains in the Los Padres National Forest, passing through private land, including the Scout camp, before emptying into the Pacific. The river "is as close to a pristine watershed as is known to exist" in the area, according to a fisheries service report.

Wind farm project moves forward in Santa Barbara County

2/11/2009--A groundbreaking wind farm project is approved in Santa Barbara County, but the controversy surrounding it is just beginning.

With a vote of 4-0, the county Board of Supervisors approved to move forward with a wind turbine project. It would include up to 65 wind turbine generators.

This is the first "green" and renewable power generating facility in the county's history. The project, proposed by Acciona Wind Energy USA, can provide electricity to as many as 40,000 homes.

George Bedford lives on a 425-acre property on San Miguelito Canyon in Lompoc, a quiet countryside ranch he has owned since the early 1990s. But his view may soon change.
The wind farm will stretch over about 3,000 acres near Vandenberg Air Force Base and surround Bedford's ranch.

…Fish and Game also filed an appeal, but withdrew it. An agreement with Acciona gave Fish and Game some protected property and $50,000.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Project near San Diego River Sent Back for Redesign due to Fire Danger

City told to revise Fanita Ranch fire plan for 1400 home project in coastal sage scrub habitat; Groups had sued over development plans on the 2550 acres...

for aerial photo: for maps and photos

ET 4/97: Santee's Fanita Ranch: open space or urban sprawl?

from one of the attorneys:

In further arguing the need for a new “EIR” it was pointed out that the City needed to take a hard look at the proposed lay out of the project and consider, among other things, eliminating the difficult to defend peninsulas and drawing the villages back from the most hazardous wildfire areas. The project as designed would add approximately 20 miles of wildland/urban interface to the City of Santee.

Judge Linda Quinn ruled that the failure to adopt open space fuel load management plans made the conclusion that wildfire impacts had been mitigated to a level of insignificance unsupportable. She has ordered the City to re-write the “EIR” section on wildfire impacts.

(Planning and Conservation League Vice President and Board Member Kevin Johnson was on the legal team representing the petitioners. He can be reached at

They're Finally Starting to Talk about a Price for Orange County's Last Unprotected Coastal Wetland...

From the Sierra Club Banning Ranch Task Force: As you may know, the city of Newport Beach recently completed an informal appraisal of Banning Ranch as part of an investigation as to whether the purchase of the entire property for preservation as open space is feasible. Note that Newport Beach has no plans itself to purchase this property, but would be willing to assist in the purchase by an outside public or private organization.

The result of this informal appraisal for the 412 acre Banning Ranch is a value of about 200 million, or with a 25% discount promised by the owners, about 150 million. This obviously is a lot of money, and it seems unlikely that the owners of Banning Ranch could actually sell Banning Ranch for that much should they put it on the market. Remember that this is a contaminated oil field (albeit one with an ocean view) with many hurdles to development including being critical habitat for the gnatcatcher and many other issues.
to read the report, see Meetings 2009. click on January 27, then go to the staff
report for Banning Ranch. (Link may not work.)



The owners of Banning Ranch are AERA Energy, LLC. (Exxon and Shell Oil) The owners are proposing to build 1375 homes, a shopping center and a resort on the site. Such massive development would result in the loss of open space and endangered species habitat, as well as resulting in the degradation of the adjacent wetlands which are already protected by current laws.

The Sierra Club's Banning Ranch Park and Preserve Task Force (link) is working to arrange a purchase of the entire area at a price agreeable to both the owners and public. Banning Ranch would then be able to join the previously described adjacent open spaces to create a "Greater Orange Coast River Park" which would encompass over 1200 acres.

the developer's website:
Desert News: Power Lines Plan route shifted; State is Planning for Power Plants; Chevron Sells Mine; Marines Seek More Land

New Green Path North power line proposal would avoid sensitive desert areas, but threaten others

2-27-2009-A new route proposed for a controversial power line would sidestep sensitive Mojave Desert land by running towers parallel to existing lines along Interstate 10 and through San Timoteo Canyon to Lytle Creek.

we get letters:

Evan Welsh writes:
The BLM is currently processing applications for solar facilities that would cover almost almost 700,000 acres. Many of these projects fall on land protected by the Wildlands Conservancy, in conjunction with the BLM and others, as part of the Catellus land acquisition. This modern gold rush has the potential to cut the Mojave Desert in half, and have a myriad of negative ecological, social, and cultural effects that will be impossible to mitigate. I have included a link to the BLM map that shows the relative size and location of these projects.

To download a map:

(click on map to enlarge)

Mapping for projects, protection
1/26/2009--State officials are mapping the California desert to identify what to designate for renewable energy projects and what to protect….


Southern California utilities eye Inland desert as energy goldmine


Chevron Mining agrees to sell Mountain Pass rare earth mining operations

Sept. 10, 2008-- Chevron Mining Inc. (Chevron) today announced that it has entered into an agreement to sell its MolyCorp-Mountain Pass rare earth mining operations to Rare Earth Acquisitions (Editor's note: they are not related to Rare Earth News.)

Marines want to take over Amboy Road

1/25/2009--LAUGHLIN - The U.S. Marine Corps wants to expand its Twentynine Palms, Calif., air-ground combat training base to the east, taking over Amboy Road, which Southern California drivers use to reach the Colorado River cities…. “If the road becomes clogged with military convoys or closed during training exercises, travelers will change their driving patterns and detour past Indian casinos prior to their arrival in Laughlin,” she advised her board of directors.

More from the Center for Biological Diversity


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