March 24, 1999
Mendocino Redwood Explains What It's Up To
Submitted by: Sandy Dean
Two weeks ago Mary Rose Kaczorowski expressed dismay after visiting one of our proposed harvest areas on a guided tour with me and a forester, and last week Beth Bosk and Sal Eggleston asked the question "What is MRC up to?". I thought this might be a good time to update the community on exactly what it is that we are up to, and to share some factual information about the topics raised by Mary, Beth and Sal.
Mendocino Redwood Co. (MRC), along with the associated mills and distribution business, is made up of 450 employees, and another several hundred folks who do much of the hard work in the woods. MRC has now existed for about 8 1/2 months, which in the lifetime of our forest is the blink of an eye. Since forming MRC, we have begun a number of initiatives:
Lower Harvest Rate - MRC is operating at a harvest rate that is 30% below the rate planned by the former owner. Even more important, MRC¹s current harvest rate is 60% of a conservative estimate of the growth of the forest - which means that there will be more and bigger trees as the years go by.
Open, honest, responsive communication - We have worked hard to create a company culture that is based on open, honest, responsive communication. This means we work to respond to any inquiry about our activities in the woods, either by letter or call. We are maintaining a web site (www.mendocinoredwoodco.com) that contains factual information about our forestlands. We are taking friends and critics alike into the woods to see what we do. We want to show people what we are doing, and think that only an informed first hand view of what is actually happening in the woods will help foster trust over time.
Certification - MRC is pursuing Forest Stewardship Council accredited certification. The Forest Stewardship Council was formed in 1993, with the support of such prominent environmental organizations as the Sierra Club, the NRDC, Greenpeace, Rain Forest Action Network, and World Wildlife Fund. Certification is the process of having an independent third party assess, and (hopefully) validate, exemplary environmental practices in the management of a forest in accordance with guidelines established by the Forest Stewardship Council. MRC¹s lands are not yet certified, but we are taking all the steps we can toward certification, and are committed to continuing this process.
Tanoak - MRC has been investing time and money to develop a value added product for the tanoak. This has been a challenge for the North Coast for several decades. We are working to see if we can actually develop a solution. It is too soon to know how this will turn out, but if successful our efforts would aid not only MRC but also many small landowners (by creating a market for tanoak logs, thereby allowing small landowners to remove tanoak without incurring a financial loss). We will maintain a presence of tanoak in the woods, but we also want to continue to work to restore what once was, and will again be, a well stocked conifer forest. Creating a value added product for the tanoak will aid in this effort.
Restoration - We are aggressively pursuing partnerships to assess, to plan for and to restore our coastal streams. Beyond working with the California Conservation Corps in a variety of locations on our property, we have at least two new collaborative projects scheduled for this year. The first is working with local neighbors in an area of the Garcia watershed called Schooner Gulch. We are working together to implement a grant to address all of the identified sediment sources in a single sub-basin. The second project is a joint venture with Trout Unlimited, to implement a Coho restoration project on the South Fork of the Garcia River (believed to be one of the most productive Coho streams on the North Coast at one point).
By the end of the year 2000, we will have completed level II watershed analysis on 70% of our property. This analysis will allow us to prioritize future restoration work and road work across our property. In addition to our restoration efforts, we will continue to manage with extreme sensitivity to fish. We will continue a significant investment in upgrading our roads, and we will harvest very little timber from defined buffers around stream zones. Healthy populations of fish are an important measure of the health of a forest, and we are working to restore good habitat for the fish.
Mary, Beth and Sal, were critical of our new policy of variable retention, our use of herbicides, our policies for the Northern Spotted Owl, and some road issues.
Herbicides - This is a topic that we have already talked about publicly on a couple of occasions. A review of the discussion on this topic is available on our web site (www.mendocinoredwoodco.com). We have commenced a systematic review of alternatives to herbicides for treating tan oak stump sprouts, and we will share progress from this work as it develops.
Variable Retention - Last fall we announced that we would eliminate traditional clear cutting from our lands, for all new harvest plans for 1999, by adopting a policy of variable retention. We adopted this policy after consulting with several outside experts on ways to improve the management of our forest for the long term. To state it in English, the policy means that in a 20 acre harvest unit, we will at a minimum retain 2 acres of un-harvested representative forest scattered throughout the harvest unit. The retained areas will likely be in 1Ž4 to 1Ž2 to 1/8 acre patches. These patches will 1) provide ecological functionality, 2) provide wildlife habitat, 3) aid in the regeneration of the forest, and 4) provide important structural complexity as the forest regenerates. We will, of course, also retain advanced regeneration (conifers that are 15 to 20 years of age and younger), madrone, chinquapin, downed woody debris, and even some small tan oak.
While we wait for Forest Practice Rules to officially designate variable retention, we want to practice better forestry on the ground now. This is an experiment. We will do this for a year and see how it works. Stewardship (the practice of leaving something better than you found it) will involve changing some, perhaps many, traditional practices. Variable retention is a policy we adopted following the encouragement of several outside experts.
Spotted Owl - The Northern Spotted Owl is doing very well on MRC¹s lands. We have a simple piece of anecdotal evidence to support this. The Northern Spotted Owl is believed to best like old growth conifers for habitat. MRC has over 100 "owl sites" (a site can either be a lone owl or a pair, and most of MRC¹s sites are occupied by pairs) on its property. The much more heavily wooded Jackson Demonstration State Forest (which has 4 times more timber volume per acre than MRC) has 9 owl sites. If we adjusted these numbers for the difference in acres, MRC has 2 1Ž2 times as many owl sites as the much more heavily wooded Jackson. This leads us to believe that the owls on our land are doing well. I can also say that the owls will continue to do well, because we are committed to carefully maintaining owl habitat across our property.
It is factually correct that we had tree fallers working in the Albion two weeks before owl hooting season. The fallers began work, as per an approved THP, in order to accommodate a logging schedule which was to proceed after the no-take re-certification occurred in early April. The spotted owl is federally listed as a threatened species. The protocol for surveying for owls is strictly defined by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and we follow these protocols exactly. There is an owl site within 0.7 miles of the THP, and an appropriate buffer is being maintained around the site. The operation in the Albion was in total compliance with the extensive rules that exist to protect our Northern Spotted Owls.
Roads - We have budgeted $3 million to work to repair, rehabilitate, redesign and relocate roads across our property. We know that roads are a leading cause of sediment to streams, and we will maintain this level of investment until the issue has been addressed. Specific concerns have been expressed about the road at Tom Bell Flat. During the 1998 season reconstruction occurred along the main road and further work is scheduled in 1999. The Tom Bell road is located on the site of a former railroad grade. Under this THP, with the exception of about 1Ž4 of a mile of this road, the Tom Bell road is entirely confined to administration and access during the winter period (this means occasional pick-up truck use, but no log hauling). As for the failure of waterbars leading up to the Clearbrook area, the road is rocked and therefore has no requirement for any waterbars. Our foresters may have installed some waterbars in an abundance of caution, but rocked roads are not necessarily expected or required to have waterbars or rolling dips. In this case our road had both and CDF judged the waterbars to be functional. The Tom Bell road has two more rocked rolling dips amended to the plan due to water running across the road that was not visible prior to the heavy rainfall.
Concern was also expressed about a slide on the Clearbrook road. The outside edge of the road is slumping but has not to date added sediment to the watercourse. Mitigations will be addressed when conditions are appropriate. The road will be widened to accommodate log hauling. The outside edge will be pulled back and the drainage will be redirected away from the slide.
When we began in business last year we talked about managing our forest lands with a high standard of environmental stewardship and at the same time operating as a successful business. All of us at MRC are proud of what we have accomplished in just over 8 months. We look forward to the continuing and growing support of many people in the community. We are working every day to build a forest products company that is something special. We will take the heat when we make mistakes, and we will continue to answer the questions of those who are interested in what we do. This is what MRC is up to.
Beth Bosk & Sal Eggelston Letter to MRC