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Close to Home: Mendocino Coast redwoods should stand

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection plans to harvest nearly 5 square miles of pristine second-growth forest near the Mendocino Coast. Six large timber harvests will begin this spring just a short hike away from Mendocino, Caspar and Fort Bragg.

This unique and recovering ecosystem is frequented by winter wrens and marbled murrelets, black bears, bobcats and mountain lions. It’s carpeted with redwood violets, trillium and sword ferns. Most of this land hasn’t been logged in 50 to 100 years. It’s close to hundreds of residences, borders three state parks and is visited by tens of thousands of people annually.

Three of the harvest plans involve areas directly adjacent to the Mendocino Woodlands, an iconic Depression-era national historic landmark.

Chad Swimmer
Chad Swimmer

This logging cannot be allowed to happen. State officials need to hear that this is an unacceptable use of public lands — and they need to hear this now as the window for public comment on the timber harvest plans is closing.

Why is the state doing this? Jackson Demonstration State Forest is a working forest, producing science for the timber industry and university programs. But Jackson, considered commercial timber land by the California Board of Forestry, is first tasked to generate revenue.

The 3,000-plus acres in question have some of the highest concentrations of large trees remaining in the Jackson forest. While the forest management plan specifically says that “efforts will be made to limit the extent of harvest” in areas that have at least 10 trees per acre greater than 30 inches in diameter, the need for money trumps all other considerations.

Almost every acre in these harvest plans fits that criteria.

Which brings us to the bigger question of what should a publicly owned forest be demonstrating anyway, and why should it be managed by an agency whose primary mandate is fire protection?

The forestry department — better known as Cal Fire — originated in a pre-climate change world, when fires were fought to protect the forests they “threatened.” A century of suppressing low-intensity fires upon which forest health depends has created an extremely complex and literally explosive situation.

A map of timber harvest plan areas provided by Mendocino Trail Stewards.
A map of timber harvest plan areas provided by Mendocino Trail Stewards.

A recent article by ex-Cal Fire Director Richard A. Wilson and lawyer Sharon E. Duggan, published in the Golden Gate University Journal of Environmental Law, describes the flawed stewardship that has left us far more vulnerable to wildfire, with far less healthy forests. Wilson and Duggan argue that it’s time to remove forest management from Cal Fire’s jurisdiction and create an independent agency dedicated to “forest resource management … to respond to the irrefutable climate crisis. Our forests must be increasingly available to provide enhanced carbon sequestration for the survival of this and future generations.”

In the meantime, though, it is up to us to stand up to the Board of Forestry. Last summer, the West burned and choked, and Death Valley reached 130 degrees. As I write, we are at less than 25% of average rainfall for the year, yet Cal Fire conducts business as usual.

An increasing body of evidence shows that coast redwoods sequester more carbon than any other tree in the world. For our children’s sake, for the planet’s sake, we must stop these timber harvest plans. We must demand fundamental change. We need science demonstrating the phenomenal climate resilience and carbon sequestration potential of recovering redwood forests. We need these wild lands for our own spiritual health. We need to show the world that we care.

Chad Swimmer is president of Mendocino Trail Stewards. He lives in Fort Bragg.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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