John Dunlap is opposed to a 224-acre logging plan for the area above Neeley Road, near Vacation Beach, visible on the right of the Russian River, between Guerneville and Monte Rio. Local opponents to the plan are concerned about erosion, landslides, sediment, and impacts to wildlife, wildfire and the scenic corridor. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Decision closed on a controversial exploitation plan near Guerneville

A decision on a controversial and long-delayed logging plan in the hills above the Russian River between Guerneville and Monte Rio could get a boost or boost as early as Tuesday.

A verdict on the Silver Estates timber harvesting plan has been delayed 23 times since its first round of public review in 2020 – due to significant local opposition, additions and adjustments to the plan, as well as personnel changes at Cal Fire.

But even as parties on both sides await news of the fate of the proposal, a whole new possibility has emerged that could have far-reaching implications.

West County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins has begun conversations with landowner Roger Burch about the potential for a conservation purchase of the property, she said.

The land in question includes Neeley Hill, a prominent feature which rises above Neeley Road across the Russian River from Guernewood Park, approximately three-quarters of a mile south of Guerneville. The property runs along Mays Canyon Road towards the river area in front of the Northwood Golf Club at the edge of Monte Rio.

The Clar Tree, an approximately 340-foot-tall redwood estimated to be 2,000 years old, is found in this area. At around 14 feet in diameter at its base, it could be the largest tree on private property in the world, some say.

Hopkins said the fact that the Russian River Sanitation District already disperses highly treated sewage in the area creates a natural connection with the county and the Sonoma County Water Agency, which manages the district. serving Guerneville and Rio Nido.

“We are very interested in acquiring the property for its conservation value, as well as alongside our sewage treatment plan,” Hopkins said. “And then, of course, the Clar Tree is just this magnificent specimen that we would like to preserve.”

Although Nick Kent, resource manager for Redwood Empire Sawmills, has previously said the land is zoned for timber production, it is in fact rural residential, meaning it could be divided into six building plots.

Its development potential would generally make it more attractive as a conservation buy, although that remains to be seen.

Representatives for Burch, owner of the Redwood Empire sawmills, and the tax-funded Sonoma County Open Space and Agricultural Preservation District, had already started conversations about ownership before Hopkins stepped in, but no discussions are ongoing. said district acquisitions manager Jen Kuzmar.

She noted, “There are a lot of steps between where we are and getting a deal done.”

Kent said Burch became open to selling the property either way, before or after logging, depending on Cal Fire’s decision and if a buyer appears soon enough.

“If this plan is approved, there’s really nothing we can do about it this winter anyway,” he said.

“We look at every property in terms of value, and it has a pretty high value as a developable property, so that’s really how we view it,” Kent said. “If we don’t sell it, we will continue to manage it as a timber lot.”

He said the proposed harvest was a necessary part of managing productive forest land and maintaining its value by thinning out excess tree stems and opening up the forest in some places.

The approach calls for a “light touch”, he said. “It’s selective harvesting. It won’t be very noticeable to most people.

“This property has been forest land for generations,” Kent said. “The Clar family owned it before (Louisiana-Pacific Corp.), and then we owned it. It has been selectively and continuously harvested for all these years, and we just continue to manage it like a timber lot.

However, the property was last logged in 2006, and its proximity to riverside neighborhoods means the prospects of renewed logging have garnered more attention than they could have. other.

The grassroots Guerneville Forest Coalition mobilized hundreds of people to file objections to the proposal.

Among other things, critics cite fears of increased landslide risks on the steep, sometimes unstable landscape; increased fire danger; gradient of scenic values; and potential damage to the Clar Tree, which they say needs a buffer zone of 4½ times the 75 feet provided for in the timber harvesting plan, if the roots are to be protected.

The project is also within the State Scenic Highway 116 corridor, a point raised by both critical citizens and Sonoma County officials, who provided a grant to the Forest Coalition for a professional visual assessment that will begin over later this month.

Coalition members also raised concerns about the adequacy of spotted owl surveys, seismic assessments, runoff into the river and an already damaged culvert under Neeley Road.

“We weren’t entirely opposed to timber harvesting,” said John Dunlap, a group leader and resident of Guernewood Park, which is across the river from the property. “We just thought it wasn’t handled properly.”

Dunlap said he believed the plan was hopelessly flawed from the start, and that the revisions did not change that.

His group has previously attempted to recruit a conservation buyer for the property, so far without success.

The timber harvesting plan is now in the hands of Eric Huff, chief of staff for Cal Fire’s forestry practice program, who said Tuesday he has yet to determine whether he will greenlight the plan. .

Huff said he still has many hours ahead of him for an “immersive” review of the logging plan, public comments and responses to objections and comments made before deciding whether the plan complies with the rules of state forestry practice.

“My goal is to get this decision done,” Huff said from Sacramento. “I think the review of the plan has gone on long enough. I think it’s time to get to a point where we can make a decision one way or the other.

You can contact editor Mary Callahan (her) at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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