MENDOCINO COAST — Even in the fading light of dusk, a 200-foot-tall redwood known as the “Mama Tree” is an exalted presence.
Her imposing height and girth show she has been on earth far longer than anyone who might find comfort in her shade.
Near her base, a downed log serves as an altar, displaying stones, a seashell, pictures, a pink crystal triangle and a bird’s lost feather — talismans left by visitors who travel along a well-used trail nearby.
In Mama Tree’s branches, 65 feet above ground, a tented wooden platform occupied by a variety of committed protesters last year is vacant, waiting, a long banner hanging just below it.
“Save and Protect Jackson State,” it says. “The Forest of the People.”
For more than a year, this spot in the sprawling Jackson Demonstration State Forest has become a rallying point in an intensifying battle over the future of the nearly 50,000-acre expanse of public land, an area nearly twice as large as the city of San Francisco.
The forest, which extends east from the central Mendocino Coast about 100 miles northwest of Santa Rosa, was set aside seven decades ago to extol the virtues of responsible logging.
Now, however, activists say it’s time to rethink its purpose. Each massive redwood that is cut down can no longer absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere and becomes one less weapon in the battle against climate change.
‘Here for different reasons’
The Mama and nearby Papa trees are second-generation redwoods, more than 100 years old, and should have been casualties by now. Two years ago, they were marked to be cut, along with neighboring trees.
But activists who confronted loggers in June 2021 forced Cal Fire to suspend timber cutting in this part of the forest near the coastal hamlet of Caspar, out of concern for public safety.
The activists don’t intend to stop there.
A coalition of community members, environmentalists and tribal representatives hopes to persuade the state to halt logging in the forest altogether so it can be fully dedicated to carbon sequestration (the process of capturing and storing carbon) and climate research.
In addition, they support tribal efforts to secure rights to co-manage the forest, which is on land the Pomo hold sacred.
“We’re all here for different reasons,” said 15-year-old activist Sara Rose of Fort Bragg.
“A lot of people are here because we’re acknowledging the land ... was stolen away from the Pomo. Others just love the redwood ecosystem, and it’s a huge part of our ecosystem. And lot of people are here because of the climate crisis,” she said.
“I know that in my lifetime I will see catastrophic impacts from climate change. That’s why I’m out here doing everything I can,” she said.
Mendocino resident Michelle McMillan, 26, another leader in the movement, put it another way.
“Across the country, across the world, we’re having this whole global moment. Do we want to be part of this?” McMillan said.
“Forest defense matters because you can’t really argue over the value of a tree once the tree is fallen,” she said. “When the community is saying these trees are worth more standing, it makes sense to keep them standing until you can reach the end of the debate.”
It’s a tricky issue.
For more than 70 years, a legislative framework and established policies have defined Jackson’s primary role as a “demonstration forest” to be timber production and research and innovation on harvest methods that could be measured and applied to other timberlands.
The forest was established in 1949 to reestablish timber on land from which virgin redwood had been clear-cut for some 80 years by the defunct Caspar Lumber Co.
Timber sales support operations at Jackson and eight other state demonstration forests, bringing in an average $6.6 million a year between 2011 and 2020. Timber harvests provide scores of local logging and milling jobs, as well.
UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy: