Monday, November 30, 2009

Turning bad environmental practice into a tax break

Camp Connell, CA -- The attached story was published in the Sonora Union-Democrat in response to SPI's announcement it was "saving" Giant Sequoias -- the largest trees in the world-- and going to get a tax break for doing it.
Why am I not celebrating?

The company press release did not mention that the only Giant Sequoias on SPI land are all recent plants, no giants actually, and "saving the Sequoias" has absolutely nothing to do with the remaining natural Giant Sequoia trees, scattered in only 75 groves along California's Sierra Nevada.

In fact, SPI clear-cut big timber right adjacent to the state and federally protected groves in Tuolumne County's portion of the state park, a cut that made both state and federal officials very nervous about the impact on habitats and watersheds. But not nervous enough to take on the politicians who benefit from SPI.

There are some planted Giant Sequoias outside of protected parks including in a subdivision and a park in Murphys, in cemeteries of pioneers, and eight within a quarter mile of our home all planted by early cabin builders.
None constitute a grove and no one gets a tax break for leaving them alone.

I have one growing on my deck in a bucket, but never thought to ask for a tax break. If I can get a million dollars from the government for a $6 seedling, I may want to participate.

Anyway, some more details are available at his link:

and here's most of the story from the newspaper:

SPI offset deal scoffed at by some observers
Written by James Damschroder, The Union Democrat October 06, 2009 11:40 am

About a week after a new state program was adopted to allow polluters to buy carbon offsets from logging companies, environmentalists say their fears are coming to fruition: logging companies earning millions of dollars for disguised clear-cutting practices.

California’s largest private landowner and logging giant, Sierra Pacific Industries, recently entered into the nation’s largest forest carbon offset deal to date.

SPI claims the deal will sequester an additional 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide — equal to taking 300,000 cars off the road for a year — over the next five years.

The highlighted project in the deal will be to “protect in perpetuity” about 20,000 giant sequoias on over 60,000 acres of SPI land — most of which are in Tuolumne County, said Mark Pawlicki, SPI spokesman.

“The only little sequoias that are growing on SPI lands are a few scattered small trees amidst its mostly pine-tree plantations that have been planted after fires or clear-cuts,” said John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.

Pawlicki admitted that the oldest of SPI’s giant sequoias are only about 30 years old, and many are just seedlings.

“They grow really fast, though,” he said. “They’re already big.”

Pawlicki wouldn’t say how much money SPI looks to gain from the deal — which came just a week after the program was pushed through the California Air Resources Control Board by the Schwarzenegger administration— but by all measurements it will be worth millions for the logging company.

Essentially, the program — called the Climate Action Reserve Forestry Protocol Version 3.0 — will allow industrial polluters, like power plants and oil refineries, to buy carbon credits from logging companies, like Sierra Pacific Industries, which adhere to forestry practices outlined in the plan.

This could become extremely profitable for logging companies, especially once Assembly Bill 32, the landmark global warming bill, goes into practice in two years. The bill will put caps on polluters so they have to either clean up their acts or buy carbon offsets.

SPI is one of the few logging companies that didn’t participate in an earlier version of the program, which did not allow clear-cutting practices.

In the new wording, according to a handful of environmental groups, the baseline is being set so low that SPI will be monetarily rewarded for its standard 17- to 20-acre clear-cuts. Environmentalists say it is already happening in this deal.

“This appears to be one of the biggest scams on the public that a lumber company and state officials have ever attempted to pull off,” said Buckley.

But SPI and Gov. Schwarzenegger say this is a landmark deal that will help stem global warming.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Deforestation American Style

View Larger Map

Camp Connell, CA -- Thanks to Google, you can explore my neighborhood.
You can't really see the people or the general store, but you get an idea where we are located. In the woods.
Zoom in and out for an even better look.
There are no towns nearby, just villages and housing areas: Dorrington and Camp Connell and Big Trees Village subdivision.

Probably 90 per cent of the nearly thousand homes and cabins within three miles of us are unoccupied 95 per cent of the time. This is vacation cabin country, and most owners are absentee.
For example, there are 12 cabins on my road, and we are the only people who actually live here full-time. This Thanksgiving weekend, three other cabins on our road have been temporarily occupied, and that's about average for a holiday week at this time of year.
Maybe 200 or so people live in the immediate area.

We are all surrounded by tall trees; Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, Incense Cedar, Oak, White Fir and a few Giant Redwoods planted in the last 100 years. The neighborhood is usually very quiet, and we really like it.

But if you take a close look at the Google map you will see it is not an untouched paradise. Large chunks have been removed, legally. It is sort of a a de-forestation blessed by local and state and federal governments.

Most of the forest immediately around us is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, California's largest land-owner, and they have been cutting trees rapidly in the past few years. The pace has slowed a bit because of the housing industry collapse, but SPI's public relations department remains quite active selling the idea that the fault is elsewhere. They have to do it, they claim, because the Stanislaus National Forest lands where they used to cut trees owned by the public has tighter regulations.

Like a politician's "talking points," the corporation sells certain ideas: clear cutting is efficient and businesslike; herbicides are good for us; mono-culture forests are a sensible way to replant when they clear-cut a mixed conifer forest; the company is environmentally friendly and just wants to reduce the fire hazards, and problems for the industry are primarily caused by over-zealous environmentalists who don't understand good business practices.
I don't happen to believe it, and few of the people who actually live here do, but enough politicians accept the public relations pitch and the effective lobbying so the clear-cutting continues.

Look at the checkerboard pattern in the Google map, including acres adjacent to a major grove of Giant Sequoias protected by the state park.
The clear-cuts almost always leave a thin screen of trees to hide the scalped land from being visible from the roads.

None of my neighbors are anti-lumberjack, or against the use of timber, and almost no one here suggests trees should not be cut. We all live in wooden houses, burn wood in the fireplace, and sit on wooden-framed furniture.
But we'd like a more sensible approach.

The local economy is almost entirely dependent upon tourism: skiing, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting provide what little economy survives. In our mountain region, the biggest employer is the ski resort which is usually open five months at the most, and pays minimum wage to a lot of its seasonal employees.

Despite the massive tree cutting in the past few years, very few jobs in this economically depressed county are directly related to the corporate land owners. Their people mostly live in other areas, they have no mills operating in the county. The trucks come in, cut the trees, and haul them away to some other place. I suspect they pay a very small tax bill, if any.
The industry has created its own "green" non-profit organization to sell the idea that clear-cutting and mono-culture forest and herbicides are good for us, but people who live here know better.

Take a look for yourself.

*If you want to learn more, check out the website of a local organization that tries to balance economic necessity with smart forest practices:

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Snow Dance worked

Tioga Pass in Yosemite via webcam

Camp Connell, CA -- A training class for people who lead snow shoe walks ended early this week with this encouragement from the leader: "Now let's go home and do the snow dance!"
We did, and it worked.
The snow started falling about 2 p.m. today while we were having lunch at the Just Delicious Cafe in Arnold, almost 1,000 feet down the mountain from where we live.
When we got home it became a steady drop, quietly hiding and healing all the scars of a long summer and Fall. This is one of the loveliest times of year here in the mountains. Come to think of it, there are no bad times.
But this is really nice.
The video was taken from our porch, and the still photograph borrowed from a web camera at Tioga Pass, in Yosemite National Park, a few miles south of us and at 9,900 feet.
Eventually snow gets old, particularly if I have to shovel a lot or the plow shows up late.
But for now, we love it.
Earlier in the week we attended the training session for snow shoe walks in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, bought brand new snow tires for Pat's Subaru. And then today I bought a new pair of downhill skis.
All I have to do now is get in some shape other than portly.

Bring it on!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This woman's from Venus

Unloading the old purse, and checking her stuff

Camp Connell, CA-- After decades of careful research I have come to absolutely no conclusions regarding why my wife has to have a new purse.
I have been watching her longer than Jane Goodall lived with her chimps, clearly not a comparable experience, but nothing in my cultural anthropology classes at the University of Michigan explains the apparently routine need to change purses.
I understand what triggered the behavior: we had finished a nice mid-morning breakfast in the tourist town of Murphys with friends Sylvia and Michael, when Pat and Sylvia responded to a shared impulse to shop. "I need a new purse," Pat told her.
It was too early to visit the winery tasting rooms so Michael and I responded to our shared interests by sitting on a bench in sun and watch the people wander by.
About 30 minutes later they appeared with small shopping bags in hand. Mission accomplished.
Pat's new purse is smaller than the old one, more compact, and with a lot more pockets and sleeves to hold things with.

The old purse was purchased before we went on vacation because she needed something bigger for travel. It was a nice collection of muted Fall colors.

The new purse is red/orange, and it is "important" that it is brighter to help us brighten the winter. As Pat worked to move everything into the new purse she said, quietly, to herself, "I am not sure this purse is going to work. Bummer."
Going over the contents

When we got home Pat spread the contents on the dining table and made the change-over. Here is an inventory of the old purse' contents:
-- A wallet (no longer needed);
-- A fold-out plastic photo/card sleeve (no longer needed);
--A Starbucks card;
-- Cell phone;
-- Aria (local bakery) gift coupon;
-- Calaveras Library card;
-- Oakland Yacht Club membership card;
-- Credit cards;
-- Debit cards;
-- Medicare card;
-- AAA insurance and membership cards;
-- Calaveras Big Trees Association card;
-- Dental appointment cards (2);
-- Two key chains linked together with a carbiner and 12 keys;
-- Receipts;
-- Safe Deposit key;
-- Lipstick;
-- Tissues;
-- Deodorant;
-- Notes on the Mediterranean diet;
-- A postage free post card for "Discover" magazine;
-- A "proposed treatment plan" from our dentist for getting a cavity filled;
-- Two "to do"lists, one for Nov. 10 and one for Nov. 12;

The new purse, ready to go
She was able to get everything in, though it was a tight fit. She walked around with the new purse on her shoulder for a while, and then said: "I may have to take it back."

While I was typing this, she quietly unloaded the efficient pretty new red purse and put everything into a nice older green/brown purse that was apparently stored wherever old purses are stored.

I have no opinion about that.

UPDATE: The new red purse was returned, without prejudice, to the store on Sunday and exchanged for a new one, the same color, "just a little bit bigger."