"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
For two decades now, Louisiana Pacific Corporation has been implementing a policy of "logging to infinity," as former L-P CEO Harry Merlo once described it--cutting down all the remaining old growth in Mendocino coast forests, clearcutting vast areas then "treating" them with herbicides, driving the coho salmon to extinction, endangering the steelhead, destroying habitat for numerous forest creatures, and dooming the once-magnificent coast Redwood forest to life hereafter as a lowly Redwood tree farm.
Given the disastrous policies of this corporation, the complicity of our state regulatory agencies, and the long and futile effort of local communities and environmental groups to stop this destruction, it was understandable that some of us felt a stab of hope upon the recent announcement that all L-P timber lands in Mendocino County were being purchased by an investment group associated with The Gap clothing stores. The Press Democrat floated a "conservation easements" balloon in the initial news articles about this purchase. The Gap investors are known to be cash-rich. Their investment group, Sansome Forest Partners, and their new Mendocino Redwood Company, aren't junk bonded, like Pacific Lumber (owner of Headwaters), nor saddled with debts, fines and legal costs, like the miscreant L-P. Perhaps The Gap investors could afford to let these battered forests take a rest.
That hope was quickly dashed when a group and watershed activists and I met with Sandy Dean at his request a couple of months ago. Mr. Dean is one of the three investors in Sansome Partners, and Acting President of the new Mendocino Redwood Company. He told us the following: 1) His company needs to log 40 million board feet per year; 2) They intend to implement L-P's as yet unapproved "Sustained Yield" Plan; and 3) They intend to keep on the current L-P management and personnel.
I admire Mr. Dean for stating these intentions upfront, at his first meeting with coastal environmentalists, all of whom were strangers to him. But we were appalled at his plan. We spoke to him at length about it. This plan hasn't changed very much since that meeting. It has been further elaborated in a radio interview of Mr. Dean by KZYX host Els Cooperrider, and its uglier details-more clearcutting, the logging of old growth, continued use of pesticides, and possible housing subdivisions have become clearer. In addition, we have now had the appalling experience of L-P's final plague of logging plans to teach us about the continuity of policy between these two companies.
Currently, I don't see much difference between the old and new owners, except that the new owners are a bit better at public relations.
Mr. Dean claims that the 40 million board feet per year that he wants to extract from L-P timber lands is 5 to 15 million board feet per year less than projected by L-P's "Sustained Yield" Plan, although these figures are difficult to get a steady fix on. In my opinion-and in the opinion of many other knowledgeable people--a cut of 40 million board feet per year cannot be accomplished without destroying these forests utterly and forever. They will not recover from such an assault. Many species, which are now hanging on by a thread, such as the coho salmon, will become extinct. The coho is facing extinction even without this much logging.
What meager data we have on the condition of the coho salmon on L-P lands is truly alarming. L-P has withheld most of its fish distribution data. What we know is this: In Elk Creek-an historically abundant salmon fishery near the town of Elk on the Mendocino coast--L-P found 10 or fewer coho salmon in the entire Elk Creek drainage in a survey in 1995, and no coho salmon in 1996. Then they stopped surveying. L-P's next move was to file a 606 acre logging plan (THP 97-445 MEN) including 418 acres of clearcutting directly upstream from those ten or fewer coho salmon--the only salmon they found in Elk Creek.
This fish data was provided to the public only after the clearcutting plan was approved by the California Department of Forestry, and only after the public squawked about data being passed in the field from L-P personnel to state agency inspectors, keeping the public out of the loop.
In the Albion River--also due to public pressure and protest--we know that there is a population of about 200 genetically uncontaminated coho salmon (wild fish, not hatchery-produced). L-P has withheld all other information on their 200,000-plus acres of timber land in Mendocino County, even with the coho salmon now listed as a threatened species and clearly on the way out.
In addition, considering what we know about the state of the forest on L-P lands, the Redwood species itself may well be in danger. L-P lands have been increasingly converted to tanoak and other healing species due to the "liquidation logging" of conifers (Redwood, Douglas fir). The Redwood base has been reduced to 50% or less of the conifer total. And if you're thinking of a Redwood forest (a forest with a component of 75% or better Redwood), it's down to 8% in some watersheds, such as Greenwood Creek.
One of L-P's last acts in Greenwood Creek was to log what surely was one of the last Redwood stands on L-P's ownership in that watershed, including the logging of an unmarked 230 year Redwood tree, possibly the last of its kind on the coast. This logging plan (THP 1-98-042 MEN) also threatens to de-stabilize a slope right down into Greenwood Creek, where a rare healthy Steelhead nursery is known to exist. It is one of the most unstable areas in Greenwood Creek, with nine mapped slides and many unmapped slides sitting on top of a large old rotational landslide. The local water district opposed the plan due to the great danger of increased turbidity in their already severely impacted town wells.
Sandy Dean apparently allowed L-P to go ahead with this logging plan, on the eve of the close of escrow, knowing that the local watershed group was outraged by it and had filed a lawsuit to try to stop it. Mr. Dean now wants to meet with local community people and go visit this plan area. The trees are down. The road is going in. It's a bit late for a field visit.
According to L-P's draft "Sustained Yield" Plan (SYP), 85% of the L-P acreage in Greenwood Creek watershed is in 11 inch to 15.9 inch diameter trees or smaller. The SYP describes these as "small trees." That is an understatement, when you consider the potential of the coast Redwood tree which can grow to be over 300 feet tall, massive in diameter and 2,000 years in age. The toll of that designation, "small trees," is likely even greater than we know. What it means is that we no longer have a Redwood forest. And that is what the species that are dependent on this forest are trying to tell us, by their disappearance.
The Spotted Owl, the Marbled Murrelet, the Point Arena Mountain Beaver, the Coho Salmon, the Steelhead Trout, and all the other vanishing birds, fish, animals and plants of the old Redwood forest have seen their home systematically destroyed--a fact that L-P foresters have the nerve to use as an excuse for further clearcutting. No habitat exists here; let's clearcut it.
These conditions in Greenwood Creek are typical of the devastation that L-P has inflicted on the Mendocino coast Redwood forest, and that L-P continued to inflict even as they signed the escrow papers. In the final months before the sale, L-P filed numerous high-impact logging plans-all approved by the California Department of Forestry-including more clearcutting for Elk Creek and the Albion River, a plan to remove rare and precious old growth in Big River, the infamous Kaisen Gulch plan (old growth cutting, failed roads), and two plans in the Enchanted Meadow area of the Albion River that have been contested for ten years.
The Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance took L-P to court on seven of these timber harvest plans, in an effort to stop this outrageous plundering of the forest. L-P agreed to an injunction on the first four plans in this case, in order to shut us up. But they fought us like the Devil on the remaining three---the plans with the most lucrative trees. The Superior Court and Appellate Court judges in the second case managed to delay ruling on our request for an emergency stay of logging for twelve days, during which L-P logged half the trees. The judges caused our second case to be moot. Our very strong argument regarding the lack of cumulative effects assessment and the numerous other illegalities in these plans was never heard in court. Justice and fair play went right out the window.
I wonder if the readers of this article have any idea how difficult it is to go to court on a timber harvest plan--let alone on seven of them. Timber harvest plan litigation is extremely difficult and expensive. The state system of forestry rules and laws is entirely stacked against us. We have to raise tens of thousands of dollars, overnight. The deadlines are cruel, for ordinary citizens to meet. When we get to court, we not only face highly paid timber industry lawyers, we face our own Attorney General, who always sides with industry, and who always defends whatever decisions the Department of Forestry has made, no matter how bad.
The Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance is an organization of small, poor, rural community watershed groups. We have no paid staff. We are all volunteers, who give up our nights and our weekends, and often give up paid work, and contribute our own money, to save a little bit of forest for all of us. We find it hard and discouraging to come up against this rank corruption in our state government. Perhaps we are hopeless idealists: we think that somehow, some way, we can get this system of forestry regulation to work as it should.
It obviously has not worked in the case of L-P, which is now absconding with its ill-gotten gains, leaving behind a devastated forest landscape. The Gap investor group presumably inherits our lawsuit on the four plans that are under injunction, which will go to trial in mid-August. These are some of the worst logging plans that L-P ever filed. One plan is so bad it even prompted the National Marine Fisheries Service to write a letter stating that the plan will likely cause the destruction of the Elk Creek fishery.
Does The Gap really want to be known as the destroyer of fisheries? It is a strange irony that the family whose investment trust is buying these forest lands is named Fisher. Perhaps it's a good omen. Most of the other omens-as well as hard information-are not so good.
In that early meeting with Sandy Dean, we came upon one of the more insidious myths to be found in timber country. We asked Mr. Dean why The Gap investors were interested in timber land. He said that they wanted to invest in a natural resource that is renewable (unlike oil, for instance). You've seen the logger bumper sticker, "Trees are our renewable resource." This myth has caused a whole lot of damage to the forest and its dependent creatures.
It's true that the coast Redwood tree is a resilient species. It resists fire and insects. It can clone itself from its root system (although genetic diversity is lost with this method of regeneration). An individual Redwood tree may be renewable. But a Redwood forest is not renewable. A stand of young Redwood trees, all the same age, without fish in the streams, without owls and murrelets and all the complex organisms of this ancient ecology, is not a forest. Once these dependent species are gone, the forest is gone, never to return.
The timber lands that The Gap investor group is purchasing are already severely degraded, and critically lacking in old growth, wild life and fish. Yet these costs--the true ecological costs of overlogging--are viewed by Mr. Dean as having nothing to do with him. He is the new owner. We are supposed to forget what L-P did to these lands and start the discussion from point zero: The Gap investor group's bottom line.
As evidenced in the KZYX interview, Mr. Dean seems to be bending a bit on two points: the overall cut, and use of L-P's draft "Sustained Yield" Plan. He says that he is considering revising the SYP. But he has not committed to withdrawing this awful plan, nor to publically putting it on hold, nor to any process of public participation or review. He knows quite well that the SYP is his for the asking. That's politics in California these days. Our regulatory agencies are not a big factor in corporate decisions.
How The Gap investor group handles this SYP will be a critical indicator of their future relationship with the forest and its local communities. We should be very wary of their acceptance of this plan, as is, with promises to revise it, which seems to be their present position. The plan needs fundamental change, not minor tinkering. Once the Department of Forestry officially approves this SYP, Mendocino County and its citizens will have about as much power as a third world country to influence our future.
Right now, that future contains the extinction of the Coho salmon and Steelhead fisheries, and an overall degradation of the forest the likes of which we have never seen before. I will discuss this plan in more detail below, but first, a Citizen Alert.
Public Comment Is Still Possible
The close of public comment for L-P's "Sustained Yield" Plan (SYP 95-003) was to have been this June 30--after three years of review and many delays. The Gap investor group has asked for an extension of the public comment period through July 24.
Every citizen of Mendocino County should read L-P's SYP, for it quite literally designs our future. However, L-P and CDF have made it very difficult for ordinary citizens to get hold of this document.
Trying to locate all parts of the plan is not an easy task. It is not even clear what is part of the plan and what is not. Some parts of the plan are available at local libraries and CDF offices. The CDF-Santa Rosa office may have all parts of the plan but you cannot get copies there. The CDF-Sacramento office is the only place where you can access and get copies of the complete plan, as far as I know. I would suggest calling that office and, first of all, requesting a list of the SYP contents, and secondly, asking how many of those documents are available to you locally. Then ask about the costs of copying.
California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection
1416 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
tel. (916) 653-5843
fax (916) 653-8957
What is the SYP?
L-P's "Sustained Yield" Plan is nothing less than a management plan for tree-farming the Mendocino coast Redwood forest. Vast areas of L-P timber land will be permanently consigned to "even-aged management," for the growing of small trees all of the same age, with frequent entries using clearcutting and clearcutting-type methods and pesticides. These lands will never become a Redwood forest again. With the loss of soil, moisture, wildlife and fisheries, the lands will degrade even more over time and become unable to grow true forest even if the management changes.
The SYP confines wildlife and fishery values to narrow strips along the stream zones and a few narrow strips over the ridges ("wildlife corridors"). Some of these areas, designated for old growth development, were clearcut by L-P as they left the County. It will be hundreds of years before any wildlife habitat is available there, if ever. The plan is supported by no fish data whatsoever, and contains no commitment to monitoring the coho salmon. Indeed, the plan contains no commitment to any wildlife, fisheries or water quality mitigations or monitoring. It leaves all options open.
Further, the SYP grossly distorts the "relative risk" of logging to beneficial uses (fisheries, drinking water) in these 77 coastal watersheds, by "grading on the curve," that is, the plan compares one L-P watershed to another L-P watershed, instead of comparing them all to unlogged or lightly logged watersheds. The result is this: exactly eight watersheds are listed as "high risk" for beneficial uses, eight watersheds are listed as "low risk," and everything else is in the "moderate" risk category--"moderately low" (eight watersheds), "moderately high" (eight watersheds), and "moderate." This bogus ranking system hides the true condition of these watersheds, which are all at extremely "high risk" for all beneficial uses.
Elk Creek, for instance, which once had an abundant coho salmon fishery and which now has a population of ten or fewer coho salmon (if that), is rated at "moderately low" risk for the fishery. The fishery is near extinction in this watershed--according to L-P data that is not included in the SYP--and yet it is ranked near the bottom of the list for risk to the fishery. This rating is not an anomaly. It is a typical example of the uselessness and deceptiveness of this rating system.
In some watersheds, half of the existing Douglas fir (about half the conifer base) will be logged off in the first four decades (with all of the Douglas fir being logged by Decade 12), to be replaced by Redwood seedlings and regeneration. The plan includes many such instances of species conversion, with unknown consequences to wildlife. What is even worse, though, is the sheer magnitude of tree removal, with vast areas of the ownership never having a chance to recover or to become true forest again.
If the owners of this plan decide to commit some resources to monitoring anything--wildlife, fish, roads et al--there is no feedback loop for amending the plan. Individual timber harvest plans can go forward--with a truncated cumulative impacts assessment which refers back to the SYP--and with on-the-ground information never getting into the SYP for additional assessment or changes to the plan.
The SYP will lock this management plan into place for ten years. If you think influencing an individual timber harvest plan is difficult, try getting changes to the SYP two or three years down the line when the coho are gone and this forest ecosystem is collapsing. It will be impossible.
The SYP is a sketch for a plan. Its substance is the "even-aged management" part. The rest of it is filler--wistful talk about "wildlife corridors" that do not now exist, a "coho monitoring plan" that does not exist, computer projections with inadequate ground-truthing, maps that seem to represent virtual reality, and other fancy-dancy stuff that lacks the most important element of such a plan: hard data.
It is one of the great ironies of the forestry debacle in Mendocino County that L-P's "Sustained Yield" Plan is coming before us now, at this late date, with L-P gone. L-P, more than any other timber company, is the one that precipitated the forest crisis in the early 1990s-a crisis that resulted in mass protests by thousands of people, numerous lawsuits, a County-level effort at special county logging rules, a statewide initiative, and the attempted murder of forest activists Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney. "Redwood Summer," that fabled era of community activism, did not have a good outcome. The only result, really, was a political conspiracy, at the state level, to insure that L-P would never be accountable for what it had done to Mendocino County forests. Governor Pete Wilson appointed his campaign manager, Terry Gorton, as head of the Board of Forestry. Gorton and timber industry lawyers wrote the rules under which L-P performed this mirror trick--creating a plan with the phrase "sustained yield" in the title while logging to infinity. The plan, for what it is worth, will never apply to L-P.
Redwood Summer is over. We are now facing Redwood Winter-with much less hope than we had even eight years ago that these forest lands can be restored. The Gap investor group enters the picture as the benefactors of a thoroughly corrupt system of forestry regulation. They can use that power to inflict a final blow to this once lush and abundant forest land. Or, they can do something else-something that never would have occurred to L-P-they can listen to the people who live here and who have tried to stop the destruction of this forest.
It will be a quiet event in the natural world, when the last Coho salmon returns to spawn and dies, and its offspring do not survive. Although the last old growth Redwood tree will go with a mighty crack and a piercing cry, the sound will likely be heard by only a few woodsmen. The forest will fall silent, and then--it will no longer be a forest.
This catastrophe, if and when it comes, will not entirely be the fault of The Gap investors. We have all contributed to this diminishment of the earth. The Gap investors, however, are in a singular position to reverse the downward spiral of this forest environment. They have the power and the money-far in excess of what they should have, in a just world, but that's how it is today. They have the power of a monarch to say "Thumbs up" or "Thumbs down" to the Coho salmon and the noble Redwood. They have the money-a family fortune said to be worth eight billion dollars-to put thousands of people to work restoring the fishery and planting trees. They have the money to forego logging and let the trees grow for a very long time, if they would be satisfied with nature's profit, rather than the frenzied, inflated profit of the stock market. They have the power and the money to do whatever they want, for good or for ill.
Those of us who are dependent on these forest lands-loggers, fisherfolk, owners of tourist businesses, drinkers of the water, breathers of the air, lovers of the forest-have only one power: the power of protest. Let it be loud.
Mary Pjerrou is President of the Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance, a non-profit public benefit corporation with thirteen watershed groups and projects in Mendocino County.