Logging to restart in Jackson Forest as soon as this week

Wednesday’s announcement came as a surprise to environmental advocates.|

Just days after releasing a new vision statement reflecting a greater focus on climate mitigation and wildfire prevention at Jackson Demonstration State Forest, Cal Fire announced a nearly eight-month pause on logging in the forest will end.

Wednesday’s announcement came as a surprise to environmental advocates, including members of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians who are in the middle of negotiating for co-management rights in the forest.

Four approved timber harvest plans in the state-owned forest were put on hold — one last year and the others over the winter — after public outcry over the removal of large redwood trees. Those plans are expected to recommence in phases before the end of the year, Cal Fire said.

Crews could begin cutting any day in the 737-acre Chamberlain Confluence harvest plan, where they already have spent recent weeks hauling downed logs that were cut and stacked last winter, State Demonstration Forest Manager Kevin Conway said.

Three other partly completed harvests — Soda Gulch, Red Tail and the highly controversial Caspar 500 on the Mendocino Coast — also are expected to get underway in the coming weeks and months. In all four areas, trees 48 inches in diameter or larger will no longer be cut.

Other shared modifications in the harvest plans include removal of slash piles in areas of high use and visibility, enhanced protections for culturally sensitive Indigenous sites, and permanent retention of at least two large trees in each uncut acre with high-growth and carbon sequestration potential.

Cal Fire also is proposing significant alterations to the most controversial operation, the Caspar 500 plan, which is largely responsible for drawing attention to Jackson logging practices in the first place. Among them is the removal of 75 acres from the northern part of the 533-acre plan, where logging was just beginning when protests in the forest forced a suspension in the name of public safety in June 2021.

Cal Fire said it was moving to resume logging now because of months “of collaborative discussions with local Native American tribes, community members, and stakeholders” had provided enough input to move forward.

But the changes may not assuage critics of continued logging or satisfy members of the sovereign Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, who have been in government-to-government negotiations over co-management of the nearly 50,000-acre forest, which extends east from the central Mendocino Coast about two-thirds of the way to Willits.

Jackson Demonstration State Forest (Cal Fire)
Jackson Demonstration State Forest (Cal Fire)

No one had expected to see logging resume so quickly, given the recent modernization statement and still-unresolved negotiations over tribal co-management.

Michael Hunter, chair of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, said he was “shocked” by the news and raised doubts about the whole effort.

“The State did not even bother to notify The Tribe beforehand,” he said via email. “The State wants to continue logging our Pomo Homeland (Jackson Demonstration State Forest) while negotiating a co-management agreement with the Coyote Valley Tribe. This makes me question the State’s seriousness about Co-Managing ancestral lands.”

The individual logging interests already have long-approved contracts with Cal Fire for the timber harvest plans, however, and have waited months or more than a year to fulfill them.

Matthew Reischman, Cal Fire deputy director for resource management, said in a news release that the state remained “committed to working with tribal governments, local communities, the regional forestry sector and conservation organizations to ensure the forest is managed as an environmentally sustainable forest, based on science and protects natural landscapes and watersheds, enables ecologically appropriate timber harvest for supporting local communities, and provides one-of-a-kind recreation opportunities.”

Local activists have been consistently wary of how the ongoing discussions would end up.

Longtime forest activist Linda Perkins, of Albion, said she was particularly concerned that the state had yet to consult with the tribal archaeological site subcommittee of the Coalition to Save Jackson Forest.

And while a variety of critics had attended public forums and made their concerns known, there hadn’t exactly been “discussions.”

“They haven’t been at the table with us,” she said. “I’m certainly upset. I’m disturbed that they have moved so quickly from, ‘Here’s a vision statement,’ to ‘Here’s some of the same old, same old’” — though, she said, Cal Fire would say it’s different because “we’re saving trees over 48 inches.”

Conway said he had yet to finish negotiations with those who bought the other three harvest plans on the proposed modifications and that other groundwork would be needed before the work could resume.

He said a public announcement would be made as each timber harvest plan was about to get underway.

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

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