Logging in the Jackson Demonstration Forest still on hold during removal of trees cut last year
After months of delays, logging crews are about ready to reenter Jackson Demonstration State Forest to collect cut timber, but there won’t be any new trees felled in the foreseeable future.
Workers will haul out cut logs — about 100 truckloads worth — that were stacked last year while logging was underway in the Chamberlain Creek area north of Highway 20, near the forest’s eastern edge.
But for now at least, the area will be spared the whine of chain saws and the outcry of demonstrators.
The 48,642-acre expanse of forest, which stretches across much of central Mendocino County, has been the site of numerous protests aimed at protecting some of the area’s oldest and largest trees.
No one has formally declared a moratorium on logging, as had been requested by activists. But work in four partially cut timber harvest plan areas remains on hold pending ongoing discussions about the future of the more than 70-year-old demonstration forest.
That includes development of an interim management plan that state Sen. Mike McGuire expects to reflect a transition toward a forest mission newly focused on climate mitigation and wildfire resilience, he said.
It also should account for ongoing government-to-government consultations among Cal Fire; the California Natural Resources Agency, of which Cal Fire is part; and sovereign tribal nations, notably the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, for whom the forest holds sacred value as an ancestral home and ceremonial site.
No trees have been cut since the end of January, when all logging stopped to account for the seasonally observed nesting season of the federally protected northern spotted owl, State Forest Program Manager Kevin Conway said.
The most controversial harvest site near the coastal community of Caspar remains a haven for hikers and bicyclists. All timber operations there have been suspended since June of last year, when protests in the woods made it unsafe for loggers to proceed, Conway said.
Cal Fire also has withdrawn three contentious timber harvest plans filed for areas of the Jackson forest in 2020 and ’21.
The long, unexpected pause means demonstrators who were prepared to go back to the forest in April to stand in the way of loggers have been instead engaged in “a lot of aware presence” among the trees, said Michelle McMillan, a leader in the movement.
“But as for now no logging means no dawn patrol, so we have very well-rested activists who hope they’ll have no reason to be out in the forest,” McMillan said.
Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot has remained personally involved with collaborative discussions with stakeholders and is intimately familiar with the details, said McGuire, D-Healdsburg.
“I believe he is committed to changing the focus of the demonstration forest and modernizing its mission,” he said.
The Jackson forest was established in 1949 to serve as a living laboratory where sustainable forestry practices could be developed, tested and exhibited following close to a century of clear-cutting through much of the North Coast’s famed redwood groves.
The largest of nine California demonstration forests, which total 72,000 acres, the Jackson forest also offers research opportunities. One project has been collecting data for decades. The globally recognized study in the Caspar Creek watershed involves water quality and stream flow, riparian plant and animal communities, sediment loading and related topics.
Additionally, the forest provides jobs and economic opportunity in a region whose once robust logging, milling and wood products economy has diminished with the supply of available trees.
Recreational activities — including camping, hiking, cycling and horseback riding — are supported but are by law defined as secondary to timber production.
Timber sales generated an average $6.6 million a year between 2011 and 2020, supporting operations throughout the nine demonstration forests.
A little over two years ago, however, residents escaping pandemic-era isolation by flocking to the coastal woods near Caspar began seeing redwoods along the trails marked for harvest, setting off alarm and scrutiny of timber harvest plans around the forest.
State Forest Program Manager Conway and others said the approach to the harvest was measured and based on forest management rules that allow for the strategic removal of trees to maintain overall forest health by lessening competition for sunlight, water and necessary nutrients.
But a coalition of veteran forest defenders joined by younger activists driven by a planet in crisis rose in protest to halt the logging as well as other timber harvests.