Things are quiet at the moment regarding Caltrans’ boondoggle highway expansion plans through the old growth redwood forest as we await new environmental planning documents from Caltrans. Defeated in Federal Court in 2012 by the environmental groups, Caltrans ultimately withdrew the project in December, 2014, but subsequently announced they would start the process over again. The transportation agency insists on taking another whack at this costly and unnecessary project, for reasons unfathomable to most of us. Last year an additional group of Richardson Grove activists expanded the campaign by forming the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP) to challenge Caltrans to reorient their transportation priorities toward more sustainable, multi-modal alternatives to fossil fuel burning vehicles. See <transportationpriorities.org> for info.
Smith River / Del Norte Caltrans Project:
Caltrans’ Highway 197/199 project in Del Norte County intends to widen parts of that highway that runs through the ecologically sensitive area Smith River canyon. The goal, as with the Richardson Grove project, favors the trucking industry over ecology and good sense —to allow access by oversize (STAA) trucks.
Del Norte County is currently updating its Regional Transportation Plan, or RTP; a long-range planning document that lays out the area’s transportation needs for the next 20 years in the context of land use and human and environmental impacts, identifying strategies for the future. This important document has received input from CRTP and other allies, and could (and certainly should) affect the highway project’s outcome. Virtually no transportation project can receive funding if it is not consistent with the local RTP.
Other Threats on the Smith River: Strip Mining
Activists are rallying to defend the North Fork Smith River from strip mining and other potentially disastrous activities by giving the river the best protection possible. A petition before the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission seeks to designate the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries as “Outstanding Natural Resource Waters” to protect public health and welfare, wildlife, fish and aquatic life, and the many beneficial uses of the state’s waters. This designation would also protect the river and its tributaries from a strip mine that is proposed in the Baldface Creek watershed, a tributary to the North Fork Smith River.
The Wild and Scenic Smith River is one of the last undammed major rivers in the U.S. and deserves the best protection that can be attained. The protected waterways of the Smith River provide habitat for Coho salmon and stands of the rare Port Orford cedar. The Smith River is considered one of the crown jewels of the region as the river winds through the old growth redwood forests of Jedediah Smith State Park. The River and its tributaries serve as valuable wildlife habitat corridors providing connectivity between protected wilderness and park areas.
In recent years, the Canadian based Red Flat Nickel Corporation has proposed a nickel strip mine near the river. While the proposal was denied, the foreign corporation has appealed the process. The best way to protect the river into the future from this threat and others is to designate it as an “Outstanding Natural Resource Waters”.
As Caltrans’ forges relentlessly ahead to complete the Willits Bypass, one corollary of good news is that local activists did, through a persistent and strategic campaign, win the battle to keep herbicides off the wetlands “mitigation lands” The struggle for environmental and cultural justice is currently being waged in Federal court through an historic lawsuit filed against Caltrans by the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Round Valley Indian Tribes. The suit calls Caltrans to account for knowingly harming the environment and destroying Native American cultural sites in the Bypass construction areas and mitigation lands. We will notify those in the Bay Area when this case ultimately gets its day in court! (It will be federal court in S.F.)
On the forestry front, Bypass opponents Save Our Little Lake Valley (SOLLV) Coalition, including Redwood Nation EF!, is confronting the systematic deforestation and poisoning being committed by Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) on company forest holdings throughout the County.
MRC is owned by the billionaire Fisher family, along with the Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, the Oakland A’s and the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco. MRC owns 10% of the private land in Mendocino County. While the company’s forest practices accelerate climate change by releasing carbon rather than storing it, MRC owner Robert Fisher is Governor Brown’s co-chairperson for the Governor’s elite Council on Climate Change.
In years past, there have been active protests at Bay Area GAP stores to bring the issue to public attention and send a message to the Fisher family and the Governor that these forest practices are dangerous and unsustainable. Stay tuned for a resurgence of this campaign!
BACH is committed to providing media and outreach support in collaboration with North Coast grassroots groups, as well as informing Bay Area activists of campaign news.