Will Parrish

WILL PARRISH: Cap & Trade — Selling Pollution…

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Across the last 160 years, the timber industry has leveled the largest trees in California’s north coast counties in a burst of wealth that would be impossible to replicate for hundreds of years, even if industrial civilization persists for that long despite global climate change and a broad, interlocking global environmental crisis.

But the climate change era is also supplementing the region’s lumber economy by offering up the latest secondary forest product boom: carbon molecules. As I found in a review for the AVA, Mendocino and Humboldt Counties – which are home to some of the world’s fastest-growing forests, despite those forests’ thoroughly diminished state – have had a dominant role in the California’s Cap-and-Trade program.

Under the program, owners of forestland can generate “carbon credits” after they enlist licensed certifiers who use complex methodologies to tally the volume of carbon dioxide being stored in the trees on their property. The landowner then sells these “credits” or “offsets” to California’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, including power plants, refineries, cement factories, and shipping ports, who shop for them as part of a commodity futures trading program and need them to comply with regulatory limits. Landowners in every US state, as well as the Canadian province of Québec, are eligible to sell offsets as part of California’s program.

WILL PARRISH: The Russian River — Everybody Wants Some, But…

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

The Russian River, as we know it today, arises in the pine-studded hills surrounding Potter Valley, with an overwhelming infusion of Eel River water helping it on its way as it tumbles down into the Lake Mendocino reservoir. The river’s western fork trickles out of the fir-laden hills north of Redwood Valley, in the vicinity of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery: an outpost of the Ukranian Greek-Catholic Church.

The two forks come together at the precise location of the Mendocino Forests Products (aka Mendocino Redwood Company) mill in northern Ukiah, which draws on an annual water right of about 90 acre-feet in the course of annually producing more than 45 million board feet of lumber. As it leaves Mendocino County, the river cuts through a spectacular serpentine canyon best known as the location of Frog Woman Rock and drops into the Alexander Valley, where it is fed by water that drops from the world’s second largest geothermal power plant, and from Mount St. Helena: the highest point in the Mayacamas mountain range.

WILL PARRISH: Who Funds Mendo Politics?

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

The people who fund American politics are already breaking spending records in the 2016 election season, collectively pouring billions of dollars into national, state, and even some local contests as they attempt to tighten their existing firm grip on the country’s political windpipe. At the same time, top candidates in each major party – namely, Trump and Sanders – have made opposition to the influence-peddling and favor-dispensing role of so-called “special interest” campaign financiers one of their signature issues.

To what extent do large campaign contributions factor into Mendocino County elections? Not much. For comparison’s sake, consider the fundraiser George Clooney hosted over the weekend for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, perennial favorite of Democratic Party right-wingers, that cost $33,400 per person to attend. That’s roughly as much as each candidate raised overall in the most recent competitive Mendocino County Board of Supervisors race, the Third District contest of 2014.

WILL PARRISH: Chevron’s New Willits Investments…

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Chevron’s Richmond oil refinery is a colossal system of pipes, towers, smokestacks, and storage tanks perched on a peninsula of low hills rising from the San Francisco Bay. According to data from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), it was California’s third largest emitter of climate change-inducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) out of all the state’s industrial facilities in 2014.

Rich Padula is a well-known, long-time Willits-based timber broker and proprietor of an outfit called Coastal Forestlands, Ltd. He has owned the Willits Woods, about 15,000 acres of third- and fourth-growth redwoods, firs and tan oaks that encompasses much of the land south of Highway 20 between Willits and Jackson Demonstration Forest, since 1992.

Not much in the way of merchantable timber stands anywhere on Padula’s land nowadays, being that preceding lumbermen unremittingly logged it starting in the early 1900s, after which Padula mopped up almost all that remained. But the Willits Woods property does boast a commodity that, here in California, has become increasingly saleable across the past decade, particularly to prodigious polluters like Chevron: carbon molecules.

California’s cap-and-trade program allows the state’s largest polluters to meet regulatory targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions by buying “credits” or “offsets” from GHG-saving projects in the US or Quebec on a commodity exchange market. CARB records show that, in the first two years the cap-and-trade program operated (2013-14), Chevron purchased nearly 484,032 GHG “offsets” from Padula’s Willits Woods property.

WILL PARRISH: Redwood Valley Water

 

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Water Pipes Made From Redwood

From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

In 1979, the federal Bureau of Reclamation made the first of two loans to the Redwood Valley County Water District for a network of pipes, valves, and pumps to draw from Lake Mendocino reservoir’s historically fickle supply pool. Redwood Valley’s irrigated wine industry, which today consists of 2,200 acres of corduroy-like rows of vines, sprouted from that federally-funded irrigation system, today yielding an annual crop worth between $7 million and $13 million per year.

The Redwood Valley County Water District also supplies domestic water users to the tune of 1,450 hook-ups, on which 5,200 people rely for cooking, drinking, and cleaning, according to a 2014 estimate by Water District personnel.

In 2015, however, the Redwood Valley Water District’s staff elected to pipe its entire Lake Mendocino supply, or about 1,000 acre feet, to the grape growers and other agricultural users. Domestic users, on the other hand, have received their water from the Millview County Water District’s supply in northern Ukiah since last January 8.

WILL PARRISH: The Imazapyr Alliance

 

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Hacked and Poisoned  Tanoak

From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

On June 10th, 2015, the Albion-Little River Fire Protection District’s board of directors considered a resolution at a public meeting to prohibit intentionally killing trees and leaving them standing dead. The measure would have effectively barred Mendocino Redwood Company’s (MRC) controversial Hack-and-Squirt technique within the Fire District’s roughly 40-square-mile service area.

The practice, which we have described numerous times in the AVA, involves injecting a liquid herbicide called Imazapyr into unmarketable hardwood trees – tan oaks, madrones, eucalyptus, and canyon live oaks, but mostly tan oaks – and leaving them to rot while standing.  The practice is opposed by many Mendocino County firefighters who say it multiplies the intensity of forest fires and adds to the dangers of fighting them.

 Two Albion-Little River Fire Protection District board members, Bob Canclini and Sam Levine, opposed the measure.  They contended that that it would violate state law.  They cited a letter from Cal Fire, as well as letters from the California Forestry Association and MRC itself, asserting that the District lacked the authority to regulate activities on the commercial timberland under Cal Fire’s jurisdiction.

The initiative’s authors, on the other hand, had sought to utilize a section of the California Code they said allowed them to pass an ordinance limiting timber company activities where health and safety is concerned.  Mendocino County Counsel Doug Losak later wrote in a letter that the District does, in fact, have such authority.

Two e-mail threads I obtained in an investigation of the California timber industry’s political influence reveal that officials at Cal Fire and the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection collaborated with MRC executives in the process of writing the Cal Fire letter that Canclini and Levine cited.

WILL PARRISH: Sonoma Supes Drunk On Wine Money

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Last spring, Sonoma County supervisors Efren Carrillo, James Gore, and Susan Gorin traveled to Sacramento to meet with some of California’s highest-ranking regulatory officials: California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, Secretary of Fish and Wildlife Charles Bonham, and senior staff members of the State Water Resources Control Board.

The subject of the closed-door session was a pending drought-related emergency order governing water use in four sections of the Russian River watershed, which the state and federal governments had deemed crucial to the survival of the endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. According to Supervisor Gore, in an interview with me last year, the specific focus of the conversation was to determine “what we could do to achieve the goal of water in the creeks for coho.”

Soon after, the Water Board announced the terms of the regulatory order, which spans 270 days – and remains in effect as of this writing. It applies to an estimated 13,000 Sonoma County residents. It forbids watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, place mandatory limits on water used by irrigated vineyards, which are arguably the main recent cause of the iconic fish species’ perilous decline in the four areas in question.

WILL PARRISH: Feds May Use Eminent Domain to Build California Dam

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Early last year, four US Bureau of Reclamation officials came to Anita Lodge’s seven-acre property deep in the San Joaquin River gorge, 33 miles northeast of Fresno. They explained in careful detail the legal process by which the federal government forces people to abandon their homes to make way for new infrastructure. A childhood picture of Lodge’s mother, who is buried on the land, loomed over the kitchen table where Lodge served her guests freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

Lodge’s property would drown under three hundred feet of water if the state and federal governments construct Temperance Flat Dam, a roughly $3.3 billion undertaking sought for several decades by San Joaquin Valley agribusinesses, real estate developers, and Central Valley politicians. The 665-foot-high dam, which would be the fifth tallest in the nation, is one of several proposed water infrastructure projects that have gained popularity during the state’s epic four-year drought.

But Lodge, 59, has no interest in leaving, nor do other family members who reside just down the road. Seven generations of the Lodge and Woody families have lived on their riverfront spread, which is part of a much larger homestead that Lodge’s great, great grandparents acquired in the mid-19th century — most of which now resides in a federal wildlife reserve. For several summers in the 1950s, while Lodge’s father was building the house where she now lives, she camped out under the branches of a sprawling fig tree, listening to the roar of the river as raccoons nibbled on figs at the foot of her bed.

Whenever the government removes someone from a home, they are required to provide one of equal market value. But Lodge rejects the idea.

“How do you put a price tag on something like this?” she asked during a recent interview. “The family history is something you can’t replace.”

Will Parrish Goes Free…

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

I was in court on Friday, Jan. 23rd regarding my Willits Bypass protest case. Judge David Nelson presided this time, since Judge Behnke — who had been with me through it all — is now assigned to another courtroom.

It was, by far, the most friendly judicial proceeding I’ve ever participated in.

Judge Nelson opened by confirming with my lawyer, Omar Figueroa, a few particularities of my appearance in His Honor’s court. In Jan. 2014, Omar and I had negotiated a “deferred entry of judgment” with Assistant DA Paul Sequiera whereby I would receive two misdemeanors, with those counts of “unlawful entry” reduced to infractions after a period of two years — provided I didn’t commit any other misdemeanor offenses in that time, such as conducting another aerial blockade of Willits highway construction.

After confirming the essentials of this history, Judge Nelson promptly dismissed all charges against me. It happened so fast, and was so anti-climactic — this being after 20 court appearances spanning two and-a-half years, and hundreds of hours of contemplation on my part — that I didn’t even understand what happened until Omar explained it to me after the fact.

Judge Nelson then converted the restitution Judge Behnke had ordered me to pay a year ago — $9,460.45 — from a criminal to a civil matter. Frankly, I am not sure what the implications of this ruling are yet.

Judge Nelson then picked up a binder on his desk containing the voluminous files from my case, held it aloft, looked at me and said something to the effect of “This has been a big part of the history of your life. I’ll bet you’re glad to have it over. Good luck.”

I muttered a thanks.

WILL PARRISH: Cap & Clear-Cut

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

It figured to be another evening of adulation for Jerry Brown in Paris: Standing alongside governors of states and provinces from throughout Brazil, Mexico, and Peru, California’s governor planned to tout his state’s leadership role on global climate policy. The December 8 event was one of 21 presentations Brown delivered during a five-day swing through France during the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21). His busy schedule included a stately private meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and presentations at events organized by the French, German, Chinese, and US governments.

The December 8 event was held at a mid-19th century mansion-turned-hotel and was co-hosted by one of California’s pet projects: the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, which is a collaboration of 39 states and provinces in forest-rich countries that are preparing to join a program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Crucially, though, it was Brown’s only Paris presentation to which non-invited members of the public could purchase tickets.

As Brown concluded his remarks, Pennie Opal Plant, a member of the group Idle No More Solidarity San Francisco Bay, stood up. She was positioned near the front of the room, directly in front of the governor. “Richmond, California says ‘no’ to REDD!” she shouted. “’No’ to evicting indigenous people from their forests, and ‘no’ to poisoning my community!” About thirty people, who had dispersed themselves throughout the room to avoid prior suspicion of coordinated dissent, soon joined in a chant of “No REDD! No REDD!”

WILL PARRISH: A Dead-End Year For West Coast Fish

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Much of the abundance of Pacific Northwest forests, meadows, and waterways is due to the region’s fisheries. Salmon, for example, are crucial to the health of river and stream communities. Their carcasses provide enormous quantities of marine nutrients that historically have fertilized vegetation throughout entire watersheds. Scientific journal articles will tell you as much. So will people from a wide variety of cultural, ethnic and geographical backgrounds, whether the The Inuit of the Canadian Arctic, the First Nations people of the Klamath River basin, or many fishermen on the Mendocino Coast.

Unfortunately, at least two hundred distinct runs of Pacific salmon, steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat stocks from California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington are already extinct or at risk of extinction. Let’s review some of the reasons.

WILL PARRISH: Mendocino Redwood Company’s New “Carbon Sequestration” Projects

 
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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Several thousand miles from Paris, where global heads of state are deliberating on a new climate change treaty with the infamous terrorism backdrop looming, a crucial aspect of the global campaign to limit greenhouse gas emissions has been taking shape in the forests of California.

California is the first US state to inaugurate a cap-and-trade program, which allows polluters to cancel out their emissions by buying carbon emission reductions somewhere else under a commodities exchange program. A portion of those purchased credits, or offsets, comes from carbon sequestration in forests.

Under this oft-convoluted and easily gamed system, the buyers of the carbon dioxide that has been “offset” — manufacturers, power companies, and other sources of greenhouse gases — continue some of their emissions on the theory that the pollution will be balanced out by the preservation of CO2-consuming trees. In living practice, the program already involves big swaths of Mendocino and Humboldt Counties.

WILL PARRISH: Mendocino Redwood Company’s New Public Relations Firm…

 
 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

According to filings with the California Secretary of State’s office, Mendocino Redwood Company — Mendocino County’s largest and wealthiest landowner — has already spent $24,766.45 on a marketing campaign to defeat a potential ballot initiative that would curb the company’s practice of killing hardwood trees and leaving them standing-dead, known as “Hack ‘n’ Squirt.” The company has dispensed the vast majority of that sum, $19,838.93, to a Minnesota-based public relations firm named Risdall Marketing Group.

The same records shows that MRC has paid $3,393.68 to Sonoma Media Investments, LLC, the parent company of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, along with $855.21 to the Fort Bragg Advocate-News/The Mendocino Beacon — presumably for advertisements that have recently appeared in those publications.

In its public relations campaign, MRC has promoted the new Mendocino County Fire Safety Working Group, established this past spring by the Board of Supervisors, as an alternative to the ballot initiative. “With broad community participation the Working Group can develop real and useful answers to fire safety questions rather than passing new rules, regulations and restrictions,” MRC CEO Bob Mertz wrote in a letter to “Colleagues, Friends and Neighbors in Mendocino County” dated October 8th.

An effort to implant the word “treatment” in the public mind as a substitute for “poison” or “poisoning” has also been a centerpiece of the ad campaign. “In recent months, a public conversation was begun by a group of local residents regarding the practice of treating tan oak in the forest,” Mertz’ letter stated. “The treatment of tan oak occurs throughout Mendocino County to restore the redwood and Douglas fir trees across public and private land. Our company, Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), has been treating tan oak in the forest since we acquired the forestlands in 1998.”

WILL PARRISH: Battle Heats Up Over Gualala Redwoods

 
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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Campaigns to save majestic coastal redwood groves have been waged for more than a century, starting with the campaign that created Big Basin State Park in 1902. In 1978, the Sierra Club even dubbed its successful campaign to expand Redwood State and National Park the “last battle” of “the redwood war,” but the battles to protect this globally recognized icon of nature threatened by human greed would only intensify.

In 1985, a junk-bond dealer named Charles Hurwitz engineered a hostile takeover of Humboldt County’s most respected logging company, Pacific Lumber, and folded it into Houston-based investment company Maxxam. Meanwhile, Louisiana-Pacific, a Georgia-Pacific spin-off, was cutting its more than 300,000 acres in Mendocino and Sonoma counties at roughly three times the forest’s rate of growth.

“We need everything that’s out there,” Louisiana-Pacific CEO Harry Merlo told Mike Geniella of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 1989 “We log to infinity. Because it’s out there and we need it all, now.”

This unruly phase of the story involves the birth of radical environmentalism on the North Coast, complete with tree sits and road blockades, and culminates in the campaign to save the largest remaining area of unprotected old-growth redwoods in California, and thus the world: the Headwaters forest, located between Fortuna and Eureka. Riding the tide of public opinion, President Bill Clinton made saving Headwaters an election pitch in 1996, and in 1999 the state and federal governments purchased 7,500 acres to establish the Headwaters Forest Reserve.

WILL PARRISH: The Reservoir Stops Here (Part 2)

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
The AVA

Part 1 here

California’s enormous and elaborate water infrastructure — dams, reservoirs, power plants, pumping plants, canals, aqueducts, gates, tunnels, and other machinations plumbed together across more than six hundred miles — is divided into numerous management regimes. The largest of these is the Central Valley Project (CVP), which is administered by the US Bureau of Reclamation and delivers about 7 million acre-feet of water in average year, using Shasta Dam as its lynchpin.

By comparison, Lake Mendocino has a water supply pool of 70,000 acre feet, or one percent that amount the CVP delivers.

The November 1960 water bond that authorized the State Water Project (SWP) passed by the narrowest of margins: less than one percentage point. Key to the measure’s victory was the influential Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, a consortium of 14 cities and 12 municipal water districts that provides water to 18 million people in Southern California. The district only supported the bond measure after the California Department of Water Resources agreed to give it nearly half of the project’s estimated annual yield of 4.23 million acre-feet of water.

Three other entities also signed contracts to receive a collective 1.9 million acre feet of SWP water: the Westlands Water District, San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority, and the Kern County Water Agency, all of which represent large agricultural interests in the dry San Joaquin Valley.

Yet the State Water Project today yields only half the water promised to these entities, or about 2.2 million acre feet.

WILL PARRISH: The Reservoir Stops Here (Part 1)

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Part 2 here

On the edge of the Yolly Bolly Wilderness, about 15 miles north of the dusty cattle and marijuana town of Covelo, 81-year-old Richard Wilson sits across from me in a ranch house his father constructed here in the 1940s. For much of his adult life, Wilson has defended the meaning and importance of the Round Valley area and the values he and other local people attach to it. So, while the ostensible purpose of my visit is to discuss Wilson’s utterly unique personal role in shaping the State of California’s water engineering history, it is no surprise that he also wants to hold forth on the drought’s local impact.

“When we get good, wet winters the snow packs down on the mountaintops at about four thousand feet, then holds there into the summer,” says Wilson in his spare and placid style. “As the snow melts, it keeps the grass growing, and that’s how you know where to find your cattle. In the last four years, there’s just been no snow.”

Wilson’s ranch, known as Buck Mountain, spans a roughly 20,000 acre portion of the second largest fork of California’s third largest watershed: the Middle Fork of the Eel River. While few places in California are more remote from urban life, both Wilson and his watershed are central to understanding why California Governor Jerry Brown and other powerful elements of the state and federal government are currently avidly pursuing multi-billion dollar dam projects and 40-mile-long water conveyance tunnels that began as small print in economic and engineering charts in the early-1950s.

In 1960, California voters approved a referendum on the California Water Project, the largest bond issue in the state’s history in constant dollars. By decade’s end, the project had blocked the Feather River with what was then world’s tallest dam. It had paid for giant pumping stations in the San Francisco Bay Delta move water into canals that parallel I-5 through the San Joaquin-Tulare portions of the Central Valley, as well as a 444-mile bloodline known as the California Aqueduct.

But the State Water Project has never fully been built, and a major reason why is sitting across from me here in the disorderly pine- and fir-studded mountains above Covelo. In 1967, the US Army Corps of Engineers unveiled a proposal to construct the largest dam and reservoir project in California’s history: the so-called “Dos Rios Dam” on the Middle Fork of the Eel. In addition to being 730-feet-high, the dam would have flooded a 40,000-acre area for its reservoir, equal in size to the Shasta and Oroville reservoirs combined.

WILL PARRISH: Mendocino Redwood Company Hack & Squirt Continues Unabated

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

California timberland owners sprayed 359,147 pounds of pesticides and herbicides on unwanted trees and shrubs in a recent four-year period — 2005 to 2008 — according to data compiled from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation by Cal Fire. A single region of the state — the Klamath/North Coast, including everywhere from Guerneville to Yreka — alone accounted for 256,401 of those pounds, or roughly two-thirds of the state total.

The disproportionate use of toxic chemicals within the state’s northern coastal forests is unsurprising given that this region’s main historic role vis-a-vis the California’s political economy is to turn trees into board-feet of lumber, thereby furnishing employment for labor and investment for capital.

Apropos of the latter, San Francisco’s Fisher family alone has invested roughly $1 billion of their vast riches in their conjoined Mendocino and Humboldt county timber firms, which cover 440,000 acres and employ hundreds of people. The Fishers’ Mendocino Redwood Company, which has faced renewed criticism for its herbicide use this year, accounted for 16,370 pounds during the period Cal Fire studied, or 6.4% of the total used in the North Coast/Klamath area.

Mendocino County denizens’ persistent criticism of MRC’s Hack ‘n’ Squirt technique of removing tan oaks and other hardwoods hasn’t noticeably slowed down their use of herbicides this year, according to the latest data Mike Kalantarian has compiled from the Mendocino County Agriculture Department. MRC has used 1,299 gallons of herbicides on 3,267 acres as of September 24, according to Kalantarian. MRC has used more triclopyr (garlon) this year than any in recent history: 418 gallons spanning 1,025 acres.

A few weeks ago, I obtained a copy from a North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) staff member of MRC’s voluntary Imazapyr monitoring data from 2001 to 2014. In 178 water samples, MRC has actually detected the chemical six times. As the NCRWQCB staffer stressed, MRC undertook the monitoring program voluntarily. He says the company’s willingness to undertake the testing is representative of how “they are generally pretty collaborative with us.”

WILL PARRISH: Going Dry Fast (Part 2)

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

[Part 1 here]

Voluntary Measures

For years, wine industry leaders have opposed regulation on the grounds that it is burdensome and of questionable value. California agribusiness representatives have consistently maintained that they can manage their properties in an environmentally responsible manner without the need for government oversight. In the case of the wine industry, the leading edge of this effort is a marketing and certification initiative called “fish friendly farming” which has certified 100,000 acres of vineyards, including a majority of those that suckle at the banks of the Russian River.

The initiative was developed by the California Land Stewardship Institute (CLSI), a nonprofit organization based in Guerneville.

“I’m not a big fan of regulations,” the group’s executive director, Laurel Marcus, said in an interview. “I think they lead to a lot of conflict.”

She notes that grape growers are undertaking numerous efforts to increase water efficiency, such as construction of off-stream storage reservoirs in the upper Russian River, which they can fill during high-flows in the wintertime and thereby reduce demand during the frost protection season and in the summertime, as well as soil moisture meters to help minimize use of irrigation water. Industry giant Kendall-Jackson has donated money to a “Flow for Fish Rebate” program to provide free water tanks to individuals in the four watersheds who agree to conserve water voluntarily. The program is overseen by Trout Unlimited, and several property owners have signed up so far.

A review of the CLSI’s Form 900s filed with the IRS reveals that eight of the organization’s nine board members are grape growers. The lone exception is Marcus, the organization’s founder and executive director. The organization’s president is Keith Horn: the North Coast vineyard manager of the world’s largest wine corporation by revenue, Constellation Brands.

WILL PARRISH: Going Dry Fast (Part 1)

 
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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

In July, roughly 1,000 rural Sonoma County residents overflowed classrooms and small meeting chambers at five informational sessions convened by the State Water Resources Control Board.  It would be hard to exaggerate many attendees’ outrage.  At one meeting, two men got in a fistfight over whether to be “respectful” to the state and federal officials on hand.

The immediate source of their frustration is a drought-related “emergency order” in portions of four Russian River tributaries: Mill Creek, Mark West Creek, Green Valley Creek, and Dutch Bill Creek.  Its stated aim is to protect endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Among other things, the 270-day regulation forbids watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, restrict water use of the main contemporary cause of these watersheds’ decline: the wine industry.

“The State Water Resources Control Board is regulating lawns? I challenge you to find ornamental lawns in the Dutch Bill, Green Valley, and Atascadero Creek watersheds,” said Occidental resident Ann Maurice said in a statement to the water board, summing up many residents’ sentiments. “It is not grass that is causing the problem. It is irrigated vineyards.”

In what many see as a response to public pressure, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, an industry trade group, announced last week that 68 of the 130 vineyards in the four watersheds have committed to a voluntary 25 percent reduction in water use relative to 2013 levels.  According to commission President Karissa Kruse, these 68 properties include about 2,000 acres of land.

WILL PARRISH: ‘Don’t Know, Don’t Wanna’ Know’

 

Intake pipes directly in the Russian River near Hopland (photo taken July 15, 2015 by Ken Sund).

From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Last month, the California State Water Resources Control Board enacted “emergency drought regulations” in parts of four Russian River tributaries in Sonoma County with the stated aim of protecting endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Among other things, the 270-day regulation forbids watering of lawns by residences and businesses. It places limits on car-washing and watering of home gardens.

It does not, however, restrict water use by the wine industry, which many rural Sonoma County residents recognize as the main contemporary cause of most of these watersheds’ decline.

In response, hundreds of Sonoma County residents flocked to several “community meetings” where the Water Board announced the terms of their regulatory order last month. Water Board representatives and fishery officials responded to the pervasive complaints by saying that their goal is to avoid cutting off water for irrigation, since it “provides an economic benefit,” and that they would only move to other water use curtailments if absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of these creeks’ 2015 year-class of juvenile salmon and trout.

In the meantime, these state and federal officials hailed one aspect of the regulation as an inherently progressive feature, one they touted would apply equally to vineyards and residences: an “information order.” Under this requirement, all water users in the applicable portions of the four creeks would be required to report the amount of water they are using and the source of that water.

WILL PARRISH: Wine Industry Water Grab?

 
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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
The AVA

California’s slow-mo adoption of groundwater regulations is prompting all sorts of legal maneuvers by the state’s irrigation elite, who are striving for the fewest restrictions on their pumps possible. In the Russian River watershed, from where I write this dispatch, arguably the irrigation elite’s elitist elites are the grape growers of northern Sonoma County.

Their lawyers are not resting.

State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) is quietly sponsoring legislation to create a new independent special district called the Russian River Irrigation District, which would be operated of, by, and for the growers and their affiliated wineries, tasting rooms, and event centers.

The district would encompass much of the Russian River watershed in northern Sonoma County, and possibly a small portion of southern Mendocino County. The legislation specifically names its purview as being the Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and “the territory within the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area” and “the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area south of River Road and Mark West Creek Road.”

Senator McGuire (of “Marijauna Watershed Protection Act” fame) has yet to introduce the legislation in bill form. Rather, his staff has circulated a “discussion draft” of the proposed legislation to — and I’m intentionally using the in-fashion political jargon here — “interested parties.”

Reportedly, grape growers met on July 27th to discuss the bill and they are not unanimously in favor of it. They still need to iron out a lot of kinks. For that reason, McGuire (who is from Healdsburg, and thus to no small degree a political creature of the wine industry) has yet to bring the bill before the State Legislature.

WILL PARRISH: California’s Failed Water System

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

During the drought, the state has failed to safeguard water supplies and the environment, and a growing number of environmentalists, fishermen, indigenous people, and even some farmers say it’s long past time to fix California’s “water rights” system.

In a decision bursting with symbolism, the California State Water Resources Control Board recently announced its intention to draw down the main water supply reservoir for a half-million people who live just outside of the state capitol to only 12% of capacity by September 30. Lake Folsom on the American River — the main water source for Roseville, Folsom, and other Sacramento suburbs — will plummet to 120,000 acre-feet by that date, according to a forecast by the water board, which announced the plan at an unusually lively Sacramento workshop on June 24.

The artificial lake will therefore be only months away from turning into a dreaded “dead pool,” a state in which a reservoir becomes so low it cannot drain by gravity through a dam’s outlet. Such an outcome would leave area residents scrambling for water — if recent predictions of an El Niño weather pattern fizzle and rain fails to appear later in 2015. If that were to happen, then Folsom could be a harbinger for the rest of California.

Indeed, as the American West lurches through its fourth summer of an historic drought, numerous major reservoirs are at or near historic lows relative to the time of year. New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, which was only 16% full as of last week, appears likely to meet the same fate as Folsom this year. A study by UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2008, three before the current drought began, warned that the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead (which supplies much of Southern California), has a 50-50 chance of running dry by 2021.

WILL PARRISH: A Profile of Mendocino Redwood Company Timber Harvests and Herbicide Use

 

mendocino county industrial timberland holdings

From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Perhaps more than any large private timber company in the history of California’s redwood coastal region region, Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) has branded itself as an environmentally responsible land steward.  The company’s main goal, according to the About Us section of its web site, is “to demonstrate it is possible to manage productive forestlands with a high standard of environmental stewardship, and also operate a successful business.”  Other goals include “improvements in aquatic and upslope habitat, old growth protection, clean water, and community well being, in addition to producing long-term sustainable timber supplies.”

The timber production part only makes its perfunctory arrival at the end of the sentence.

Other large timber companies in California makes essentially the same claims. For example, California’s largest timberland owner, Sierra Pacific Industries, claims to be “managed by professional foresters who practice responsible land stewardship. While providing long-term sustained yields of quality timber, care is taken to preserve the healthy and diverse ecosystems of our forests.”  SPI, however, clear cuts forests as a matter of course.  A former company executive once even defended clearcutting as a tool for protecting spotted owl and other forest species at a Congressional hearing.

But MRC has various credentials that these other companies do not.  It does not use traditional clearcutting (more on that below).  Further bolstering the company’s green credentials, many environmental non-profit organizations have heaped praise on its practices.

WILL PARRISH: Trouble at Mendocino Redwood Company

 

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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

In an historic development, employees of Mendocino County’s largest timber firm, Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), are threatening to boycott the company in response to recent management decisions that have undercut their wages and hours.

In a meeting a week ago, 18 disgruntled loggers met to air their grievances with MRC Chief Executive Officer Bob Mertz, a long-time timber industry executive who has been with MRC since July 2011. In the words of one logger who took part in the meeting, Mertz “just about crapped his pants” when he saw how many employees had filled the room, especially since they consisted of most of MRC’s long-term workforce and included employees from all areas of the county — Fort Bragg, Anderson Valley, Ukiah, and elsewhere.

At issue are Mertz’ decision in the last year to import crews from the Sierra Nevadas to carry out all aspects of the company’s timber harvests (ie, cutting down trees and hauling them away). The work, until lately, has been done by local fellers, riggers, yarders, and skidder operators. Many of these long-time MRC employees have been displaced by labor from out of the area. According to two loggers I interviewed, MRC has also made a habit of waiting until other timber jobs dry up elsewhere before offering the loggers far lower wages as a quid quo pro for giving them any work at all.

WILL PARRISH: California’s Cap-and-Trade Program

 
carbon-offset-credits

From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

California has arguably taken stronger legislative steps to address climate change than any state in the union. Assembly Bill 32 mandates that the state reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. An executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown mandates an 80 percent reduction by 2050. California is also the first state to inaugurate a cap-and-trade program, which allows polluters to cancel out their emissions by buying carbon emission reductions somewhere else on a commodities exchange. A portion of those credits, or offsets, comes from carbon sequestration in forests.

In Nov. 2013, California issued its first cap-and-trade credits under its so-called Forest Offset Protocol. Its stated purpose is to provide a financial incentive for landowners not to cut down trees. State-certified auditors measure the carbon in the forest, and this sum is verified by third-party verification companies such as SCS Global Services of Emeryville.

The cap-and-trade program is fraught with problems, some of the most glaring of which are its provisions concerning forests. For example, cap and trade currently allows timber operators to generate carbon credits even when they clear-cut a forest, so long as the cut is no larger than forty acres. And it allows up to 40 percent of the forest to be made up of trees less than 20 years old. The program is also flawed at a more fundamental level in the view of yours truly, being that it is promotes commodification of a fundamental requirement of life: the air we breathe.

WILL PARRISH: Mendocino Redwood Company — The First 100,000 Acres

 
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From WILL PARRISH
Ukiah
TheAVA

Mendocino Redwood Company, or MRC, is Mendocino County’s largest private landowner. No other individual or entity comes close.  The company owns 227,000 acres of redwood and mixed conifer forest in the county’s western half. Much of this veritable latifundia stretches across the vast mountainous expanses southwest of Willits to northeast of Point Arena. It also includes several other large swaths located east of Rockport, north of Willits, and south of Point Arena. In all, MRC owns roughly 10 percent of private land in our vast county. It also owns over 5,000 acres of western Sonoma County.

To say that MRC owns this vastness is to say indirectly that one of the wealthiest dynasties on the West Coast, the Fisher family of San Francisco, actually owns it. Altogether, the Fishers are worth an estimated $9 billion. One of the private equity firms of which the Fishers are majority owners, named Sansome Partners, is MRC’s parent company. The same Fisher investment vehicle also owns Humboldt Redwood Company, which encompasses over 209,000 of the neighboring county to Mendo’s north. Within the Fishers’ 440,000 acres of forestland in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma counties, the family owns more coastal redwood forest than any private entity ever has.

MRC management’s decisions about how they manage these lands have major consequences. That is particularly the case given the profound consequences of global climate change. Coast redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) store the most carbon of any living thing on Earth.  Thus, the Fishers’ North Coast properties probably have as much carbon storage potential as any land of equivalent size on the planet. MRC officials, of course, claim they are doing a marvelous job of restoring these forests.

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