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Cal Fire seeks agreement with activists, tribe on logging in Jackson Demonstration State Forest

The compromise proposal would allow logging in existing timber harvest plans only.|

Logging could resume soon in disputed areas of the sprawling Jackson Demonstration State Forest in Mendocino County under a compromise proposed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in hopes of defusing community opposition to redwood cutting operations.

Cal Fire’s proposition includes removing 75 acres from the most hotly contested commercial timber harvest plan area so community and tribal stakeholders can provide input on forest management there.

State Forest Program Manager Kevin Conway also has arranged with timber cutters to shorten a logging road to spare an enormous, century-old redwood that tree-sitters named the Gemini Tree during demonstrations last year.

Cal Fire also is designating protections for especially vigorous, older redwoods in different parts of the logging plan areas. Those trees would be protected from harvest in perpetuity to advance carbon sequestration in the forest, though other large trees would be cut instead.

Public reception to the plan, unveiled Monday during a field meeting of the Jackson State Demonstration Forest Advisory Group, remains uncertain. Details were still being relayed to stakeholders and activists who did not attend the all-day session.

The potential timing of logging activities on various parts of the nearly 50,000-acre landscape is squishy, too.

But Cal Fire wants to gain enough public buy-in to green light stalled timber harvest plans that have been suspended because of seasonal limitations or the threat of direct action by environmentalists.

The agency then hopes to review and revise the overall management plan for the entire state-owned forest. Most of that work would be done by the citizen-filled advisory group. The largest of nine California demonstration forests, the Jackson forest extends east from the central Mendocino Coast toward Willits.

Cal Fire and state Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot also remain in regular consultation with the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians over comanagement of the forest and concerns about sacred ancestral sites at the eastern edge of the forest north of Highway 20.

Conway said any renewed logging in Jackson would depend on progress with the tribe, led by Chairman Michael Hunter, in addition to favorable weather conditions and availability of logging crews.

“We want to make sure whatever we propose as a path forward that they would have input on things they would like to see in the plans,” Conway said. “We are in pretty intense discussions with them. We are intent on ending with a resolution that is satisfactory to both parties.”

Conway and Cal Fire have been wrestling for more than a year with growing opposition to logging in the forest, which was established in 1949 to restore redwood timberland and to demonstrate innovative, sustainable forest techniques.

The opposition was sparked by a plan to log timber, including some very large redwood trees, in a 533-acre area near the coastal community of Caspar. The so-called Caspar 500 timber harvest plan is closer to residential areas and public access roads than more remote areas that have been logged in the past. The area is also heavily used for hiking and mountain bikers.

As logging plans became public, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration was promoting the protection of public lands for carbon sequestration in the fight against climate change. The administration was also negotiating with California Indian tribes for access to native lands and comanagement of those under title to the state.

Activists began calling for broader, more urgent mission for the sprawling forest. Those calls translated into direct action last spring, when logging commenced in the forest.

The movement forced Conway to suspend action in the Caspar 500, and interfered with operations, as well, in the Red Tail plan closer to Fort Bragg, though it was about 60% complete when done when crews left the forest for the winter.

Another timber harvest plan area, Soda Gulch, has meanwhile taken on greater importance because of archaeological sites that many activists fear are insufficiently surveyed and protected. Very little of that plan has been logged, Conway said.

Critics of commercial logging in the forest at least welcomed the willingness of Cal Fire and related agencies to take their concerns into account.

But many said they didn’t think it went far enough to maximize the potential of the public landscape for climate mitigation, and said the would hold out for a complete moratorium on timber cutting to transform the forest to a massive carbon storage bank.

“We want a moratorium,” said longtime Albion environmentalist Linda Perkins, 81. “Otherwise we’re piece-mealing it. And that’s not what we want. We want a new mandate. We want a comprehensive look at what Cal Fire is doing.

“The activists are not going to step back from this,” Perkins said.

Hunter said he just hopes there’s enough time for full government-to-government consultations before cutting starts.

“They seem to be going in a positive direction,” he said Tuesday. “My fear is logging starting before Secretary Crowfoot, Cal Fire and Coyote Valley have an opportunity to work out enough specific details, before protests start. And I worry that we may not have enough time.”

However, Charlie Schneider, a cyclist and recreational representative to the advisory group, said Cal Fire is “walking a fine line” hoping “for some kind of agreement to be able to move forward with these plans that are already sold.”

“I’m super optimistic,” he said. “I hope people can see it as some middle ground we can work off of. I feel like it’s a big win for activists.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

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. 

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