North Coast Journal

June 16, 2011


Ryan Burns did a first-rate job of sorting through some of the rather arcane detail and language that surrounds conservation easements, in this case for the Usal Redwood Forest in northwest Mendocino (“Backwoods Statecraft,” May 19). Two points, though, stand in need of emphasis. One is what the Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) and the Usal Redwood Forest represent. The other is the nature of the diversions and misdirection for which Mendocino Redwood Company principles Mike Jani and Sandy Dean are responsible in challenging RFFI’s easement, and how empty is their claim to any moral high ground.

The Usal Redwood Forest and RFFI are emblematic of our highest aspirations for the vast matrix of cut-over forest lands: ecologically sound, working forests made permanent through easements, abundant fisheries, a stable employment base, and ultimately, profits directed toward goals the community - not a single private or corporate owner - deems most appropriate.

Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) and its adjunct, the Humboldt Redwood Company, to their credit, have kept some mills alive, reduced harvest levels on their properties, gained certification from the Forest Stewardship Council and participated in a more open dialog with the community.

But that does not buy MRC the right to determine how conservation financing is achieved in California. CEO Sandy Dean’s three letters to the WBC amount to an insistence, backed by enormous political clout, that the board comply with MRC’s wishes to reorder in some as-of-yet unclear ways just how the state disperses funds for forest conservation. (MRC, by the way, was part of the consultative process by which the guidelines were established in the first place.

Dean’s stated concern for the taxpayers would have more credibility if it were consistent with how they established values for their own lands that were to be sold to the state. As Mr. Dean well knows, the standard, upon which he insists, of greater transparency to the public in the process of making these deals is rarely if ever achieved in timberland buying and selling, public or private. Certainly it is a standard that MRC has itself been unable or unwilling to meet.

The fact that Mr. Dean’s recommendations to the WCB could produce the additional effect of injuring perceived competitors makes MRC’s vaunted altruism in search of “good public policy” ring false. When the competitor at grave risk is RFFI - a product of 35 years of dedication on the part of a broad, deeply committed community - the word that comes to mind is arrogance. The challenge now for MRC is not how to use a non-existent conflict between taxpayers and community interests to bully a state agency. The challenge Misters Dean and Jani need to take up for the sake of the community, the taxpayers and themselves is how to be better neighbors.

 David Simpson, Petrolia