Cal Fire announces ‘new vision’ for Jackson Forest, reduces cutting of big trees
Cal Fire has released what is says is a “new forward-looking vision” for Jackson Demonstration State Forest that reflects the realities of climate change and extreme wildfire risk.
And while it creates pathways for co-management with local tribal nations, future management of the nearly 50,000-acre state-owned forest will still likely include sustainable logging.
Cal Fire spokeswoman Christine McMorrow, resource management communications officer, described the vision statement as “a starting point” to guide development of a new forest management plan. It comes in the wake of a recent public outcry over commercial-scale logging, particularly near the coastal town of Caspar, where a timber harvest plan was brought to a halt by demonstrators in the woods last year.
Cal Fire and the California Natural Resources Agency, which oversees it, promise “a renewed focus on climate science, restoration ecology and a new model for tribal comanagement” in the future, the vision statement says.
That intention is reflected, in part, in recent appointments to the Jackson Advisory Group, which will take the lead in updating the forest management plan, said Jessica Morse, deputy secretary of forest and wildland resilience for the California Natural Resources Agency.
Reno Franklin, chairman of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, and Dr. Joanna Nelson, director of science and conservation planning for the Save the Redwoods League, a leader in forest restoration in the era of climate change, were both brought aboard earlier this year.
The forest has long been a place to test out environmental regulations, said Morse. Now it has to be a place “where everything we’re doing is keeping pace with science and what challenges the redwoods are facing in the age of climate change.”
“We’re really sort of leaning into those scientific questions to make sure we’re using the forest not just as industrial timberland but using it for restoration science and forest conservation land, as well,” Morse said.
Four timber harvest plans that have been on pause since at least January, including the highly controversial 533-acre Caspar 500 plan on the coast, are proposed to go forward, but with revisions that include halting removal of trees 48-inches in diameter or larger.
The state also has provided $10 million this year to the demonstration forest system, which includes Jackson and eight other, much smaller demonstration forests. The state plans to request another $5 million in the 2022-23 budget, and Cal Fire and the Natural Resources Agency also are working to establish a permanent funding source for the forests to eliminate any revenue pressure or appearance of pressure to log in order to sustain operations.
Until this year, earnings from the sale of timber harvested at Jackson have funded research and operations across the 72,000-acre demonstration state forest system.
Cal Fire also plans to create a tribal advisory council, build professional training and certification for tribal members and dedicate a percentage of forest revenues toward projects developed by the tribal council.
Cal Fire Deputy Director of Resource Management Matthew Reischman called the vision statement “a historic path forward for forest management in California.”
Critics of existing management greeted the apparent shift in direction with cautious optimism.
“It’s very encouraging that the state is actually trying so hard to make changes,” said one, Chad Swimmer.
But there’s “a lot of tension between whether we can make it real or whether it will be green-wash,” said Swimmer, using a term that often describes products or policies that are billed as environmentally friendly but really aren’t.
“The tension is there,” said Swimmer, the founder and former president of the Mendocino Trail Stewards. “There are a lot of competing interests, and the state government is not really transparent on their climate science and on their forest management science.”
The new vision statement is the culmination of months of public meetings, government-to-government consultations with at least two local tribes, and behind-the-scenes negotiations over the future of the forest, which extends east from the central Mendocino Coast along the route of Highway 20 toward Willits.
The forest was created to experiment and demonstrate sustainable forest in the years after nearly a century of clear-cutting had stripped the North Coast of much of its virgin redwoods.
But with the accelerating climate change demanding ever-more-urgent efforts to sequester carbon and mitigate emissions, protesters argue that removing redwood trees, particularly larger ones, is the antitheses of proper forest management.
State Sen. Mike McGuire has gone so far as to call the demonstration forest’s mission “antiquated” but said the new vision “an excellent start.”
“Refocusing Jackson to be a place of research on the climate crisis and wildfire resiliency is crucial to so man of us on the North Coast and around the state,” he said in a statement.
State Demonstrations Forest Manager Kevin Conway said the new plan, in part, articulates what Jackson Forest already stands for: healthy forests, habitat protection, carbon sequestration and research.
“It’s unfortunate that the public really distilled down all of our management to some really simplistic things when behind that is this 400-plus-page management plan that really is about all the resources,” he said.
Charlie Schneider, who represents the recreational community on the Jackson Advisory Group, said there remains “lots to be figured out,” but said the new vision offers support for important change.
“We’re not there yet, but the foundation is now laid for us to have some success, and that foundation is that commitment to comanagement and that commitment to restoration ecology.”
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.
Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat
I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment.