by Frank Hartzell
Back in 2000, the Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) envisioned a long-term plan to manage its 213,000 acres of redwood forests in Mendocino County. MRC asked a half-dozen government agencies to create the regulatory framework for its 80-year plan. MRC was asking to simplify existing regulatory processes with a single document and integrated plan.
After a full decade of work, documents totalling more than 3,000 pages were presented to the public late last month for an 88-day comment period. Most of the 20-some people on hand last week for a public meeting in Fort Bragg about the plan were too bemused by the gargantuan result of the state and federal "streamlining effort" to be much for or against it. No one commented at a similar public meeting held in Ukiah the day before.
Local newspapers and property neighbors found out about the meetings second hand. No press release was sent out, but public notices were printed in the legal advertisements.
"Based on what I've heard tonight, and the 2,600 pages back on the counter, I want to formally request an extension of at least 60 days, to April 21, 2013 for the community to have adequate time to review all this," said David Gurney, who writes a local news blog. "Giving the public a few short months more doesn't seem too much for a document that will cover 80 years into the future and has taken a dozen years for all these people here to create."
Most editions of the Holy Bible conclude in fewer than 2,000 pages.
The daunting scope is hinted at by the title of the report, which references some, but not all the processes inside, Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Program Timberland Environmental Impact Report for Authorization of Incidental Take and Implementation of the Mendocino Redwood Company Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Communities Conservation Plan and Timber Management Plan.
Making the documents even more opaque - to those who didn't help write it - is the fact that different options are compared wtihin each process. Process upon process are laid out without much in the way of review on how they fit with the last one, each with a dizzying array of options offered. Plans have options, then options in one plan are compared to options in another, then back and forth, and on to the next one and back to a contrast between A and B, and maybe C, too. If one quits trying to follow the report, it does contain some interesting facts about local flora and fauna and MRC.
"I have no problem with a timber company thinking 80 years ahead," said Beth Bosk, who publishes an independent newspaper. "I don't want to make it more difficult for people who live in the watershed to [make a difference]. People have risked their lives to keep these forests standing."
Bosk said, in actual practice, some agencies pay better attention to reuglations than do others. She said locals who have wanted to make sure MRC and other loggers are complying, had to call several agencies and play one against the other to make sure there was enforcement. How will all the agencies being on one page (albeit 3,000 pages) impact enforcement and public involvement?
Mendocino Redwood Company's chief forester, Mike Jani, siad the company will still have to file individual harvest plans. He said the plan was partly in response to community input that harvesting be done differently than in the past.
"Some of you are familiar with our landscape model, this looks at both a spatial and temporal [geographical area and time] pattern of our harvests over the 80 years," Jani said. "We felt this was a very strong commitment to the community that we are going to be here for the long haul."
While some critics were comfortable dealing with the current MRC under current conditions, they wondered how the company and the times could change over 80 years. Some suggested that timber harvest for profit might not even be practiced in a society that exists 80 years from now.
"Eighty years ago FDR [had just become] president and there was no Social Security. Eighty years before that, there was no mill here," said Albion rancher Malcolm MacDonald.
MacDonald, whose family has lived in the area for more than a century, was upset that state and federal agencies worked on the plan for 12 years, yet never even told him anything was in the works, much less asking he or other local residents for input.
MacDonald looked at the dozen consultants and scientist there to represent the plan and the document. Would they all return to Sacramento to review the plan only on paper in the future?
"I don't even know any of these people. I have lived on the Albion River since I was born," he said.
One thing all agreed on is the number of healthy trees will increase drastically over the next 80 years. Past forest practicies scalped hills, killed off salmon runs, and destroyed the quality of redwood based on unscientific and careless replanting.
MRC continues legal logging, including clear-cutting today, but this logging is done in the company of biologists. In the past years bulldozer logging scalped entire hillsides, which were tehn replanted with same age-same size trees, this type of replanting may have harmed the forest more than the bulldozing itself. Replanting is down with more care and science.
The lands currently feature 2 billion board feet of harvestable timber, or 9,000 per acre. That will grow to 3 billion board feet, or 13,500 board feet of timber per acre, then 6 billion board feet or 29,000 board feet per acre average on the same acreage over the next 25 years.
MRC will add 8.000 acres roosting spotted owls and open up 10 more miles of streams to spawning salmon over the next 30 years, Jani said. Jani said long-term planning isn't new. Other timber companies have done 50 year plans. Officials said the scope of this plan and the number of government agencies collaborating is novel.
The 213,000 acres of MRC holdings include just 105 acres of old growth forest untouched by logging. There are about 500 acres where selective removal was practiced and some old growth trees remain, mostly in high and hard to reach areas. The entire property contains about one old growth tree per 20 acresa or about 12,000 big trees, including redwood, Douglas fir, and other species, which can live more than 200 years. It's a stunningly low total, all on hand agree, including MRC. MRC does not plan to log any of the 605 acres of old grwoth forest but the individual trees are a different matter.
Menodcino County had the most valuable and most magnificent forest on earth, when Jerome Ford Charles Johnson and the rest began chopping. Because virtually all of the Mendocino County forest was in private hands, it was all cut down, with no look to saving anything for future generations by the old-time Mendocino loggers; Humboldt loggers left a better overall legacy.
One option in the plan would create 40,000 acres off limits to logging, a kind of preserve held in private hands and off limits to the public. That option would feature increased clearcutting by MRC on the rest of its property to balance leaving a large piece of the property untouched.
Althought MRC's stands are private, they cross private property and private interests. MacDonald pointed to a time when the company stretched big cables across the Albion River from one side of its property to another and across the path of kayakers.
This reporter challenged whether anyone could read, much less use, the whole thing.
Several involved said they had, and several times. They said the document is set up so that the work of experts and experts in that field can provide updates as time goes forward.
"As for someone reading the whole thing, I believe that each of the agencies that is relying on the draft EIS/PTEIR (Environmental Impact Statement/Program Timberland Environmental Impact Report) to analyze impacts associated with the project has read that whole document numerous times. I know that I have," said Chris Browder, of CAL FIRE. Eric Shott, who represented the federal National Marine Fisheries Services at the meeting said he had read much of the report line by line, while reading other agency components for consistency.
"Myself [for NMFS], John Hunter [for US Fish and Wildlife Service], and Brad Valentine [for California Department of Fish and Game] have read through 7-8 drafts of MRC's HCP-NCCP [Habitat Conservation Plan-Natural Communities Conservation Plan], focusing our efforts on conservation measures, for species under the jurisdiction of our respective agencies."
"We spent a lot of time with MRC during the last 10 years going over much of their plan line-by-line, word-by-word. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement via public comment."
Shott and Browder, said the holistic approach is preferred by modern scientists over piecemeal.
"Without the HCP, MRC might be required to implement some of these measures on some individual timber harvest plans based on input by CAL FIRE, the California Deparmtent of Fish and Game, and other agencies during the timber harvest plan review process. However, without the plan, there is no guarantee that the conservation measures MRC is proposing would be implemented consistently for 80 years, or even implemented everywhere across those lands that MRC is including in their plan," Shott siad.
MRC plans an annual meeting with the public although it wasn't clear where or when that would be held. MRC has also pledged to put all documents onto the web for easy access (it already does much of that).
But regulatory agencies will only come to these meetings as observers and no specific format for resolving problems or issues has yet been established.
Officials said public comment could help determine such issues. One of the most intelligible parts of the plan is the "science panel" recommendations PDF. There scientists provide criticism and suggestions alongisde MRC's plans.
The plans are available at http://www.fire.ca.gov/resource_mgt/resource_mgt_EPRP_PTEIR.php
No county official attended either of the two meetings. Supervisor Dan Hamburg did raise the meeting in Fort Bragg as an issue on local listservesr, bringing several people out.
This reporters solicitation of comments from members of the listserve got one comment from Petter Dobbins.
"MRC's plans allow for a very slow recovery of timber over time based upon historical growth. Now with global warming happening much faster, it is an unreasonably slow recovery. These plans should never have been allowed. But in the age of global warming? 80 years?"