By Rob Anderson
August 1999

Rob Anderson is a history major at San Francisco State University. This interview was conducted in June 1999, and appeared in Mendoland, published in August 1999. Rob Anderson was formerly a columnist for the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Mendocino Redwood Company has been in business for one year this month. What have you learned in the past year?

What we set out to do is to demonstrate that it's possible to manage productive forestland with a high standard of environmental stewardship and at the same time to operate as a successful business. I think we have taken a number of important steps toward fulfilling that purpose in a relatively short time. In the life of a forest, what we have done is really just a blink of an eye so far.

One of the things we've done is bring new leadership to the forestry group. We hired Nancy Budge to fill the newly-created position of Director of Stewardship. She started with us in February, and her responsibilities include long-term planning and compliance with long-term planning, making sure that what happens on the ground is consistent with the road map we've drawn for the management of these lands.

Does she have a forestry background?

She has worked in forest product related businesses, and she has a real passion for the environment. But she's not a forester per se, which we thought was the right kind of person to bring in - someone who cared a lot about the environment but didn't come in with all the answers based on what they learned in forestry school.

She has three responsibilities - planning, compliance with long-term planning, and working with scientists, environmental organizations, neighbors and anyone we can find who can help us better manage our land.

She will be a liaison to the Northcoast community?

I'm sure that she will interact quite a bit with people on the Northcoast specifically, yeah.

She's the first half of our new leadership. The second half is Mike Jani. Mike was formerly the chief forester at Big Creek Lumber Co. Big Creek is in Santa Cruz. It's the only redwood timber company of any size that is Forest Stewardship Council certified.

What does that mean?

The Forest Stewardship Council is an organization that was formed in 1993 with the support of many of the leading environmental organizations in the United States. It's an international organization that was formed to try to define good forest management practices. They developed a set of ten principles that are applicable internationally for exemplary forestry. Those principles have been refined in various parts of the world in what are called regional guidelines.

On the Northcoast there are a pretty specific set of regional guidelines in I guess you'd call it a final draft form. It's not finalized yet, but it's quite close. To be Forest Stewardship Council certified basically means that you have had your practices in the woods reviewed by an independent, third party expert - often a team of experts - to judge whether you are operating within the principles and regional guidelines of certification.

From the beginning, we've been quite interested in certification, and we have been aggressively working since the Fall to take the steps that are necessary for Mendocino Redwood Company to become a Forest Stewardship Council certified operator of forestland. We aren't certified yet, but we are working to operate within the principles and guidelines and hope to be relatively soon.

Tell us about Jani.

Mike Jani was chief forester at Big Creek Lumber Co., where he worked for 25 years. Mike is uniquely qualified to help us accomplish our goals because he has experience with redwood silviculture, and he has experience working in older forests. In effect he comes to us with a picture of what we want our forests to be like in the future. He also has experience with certification, which is a very important part of our purpose - managing productive forestland with a high standard of environmental stewardship. There aren't many good models for that, and we think Forest Stewardship Council certification is one good way to advance that portion of our purpose.

The fourth thing that qualifies Mike really well as our chief forester is that he really has an excellent ability to serve as a coach. That's only something you can appreciate as you spend time with him. I think of Mike as a great coach of people, and that's something we wanted to bring to our forestry group. He's been working with us for six weeks, and we're off to a great start.

One of the assumptions of your critics on the Northcoast is that Louisiana-Pacific so devastated their land there's not much left, that you're taking what's left, that it's all a charade, and that, sooner rather than later, you're going to cut and run and subdivide your property. Let me quote you something that Norman de Vall wrote: "MRC is not making it, nor can they given what L-P did to these forestlands before MRC's ownership and what MRC is continuing to do now" (Mendocino Country Environmentalist, May 25, 1999). The overall condition of the land is a big issue. Your critics assume it's so completely trashed that you can't make a go of it commercially.

That's a great question, and it's best answered by starting with the facts. It's hard for a single individual to have a total view of what the conditions are on our land, because there's so much of it. You know we own 235,000 acres of timberland. That's 350 square miles. While it's possible people know of areas where most of the trees have been harvested recently, that's not necessarily representative of all our land. We have lots of areas where you can enter our gate and drive for 10 or 15 miles and see nothing but trees. Now some of the trees are certainly young trees, but across our land we have roughly two billion board feet of conifer inventory - two billion board feet of redwood and douglas fir trees. We're harvesting approximately 40 million board feet a year, which works out to be around 2% of our standing inventory.

One of the most important things that will indicate whether or not our practices will lead to a recovery of the forest over time is how our harvest rate compares to our growth rate. The harvest rate that we are operating at is roughly 50-60% of a conservative estimate of the growth of the forest. When folks say, "We're down to the last few trees," I guess I'd say that we need to take a drive on our lands and they'd see that there's a lot of trees left. When people express concern about the rate at which we harvest, we really have to put it in the context of the rate at which the forest is growing. The way we are harvesting, there will be more trees and bigger trees on our lands as the years go by. That is the most important thing we can do in managing this land, so that three or four or five decades from now it will be a healthier and better-stocked forest, which is what we are doing.

So there's no doubt in your mind that you can practice good forestry and make a profit for your company at the same time?

Well, we may not make much of a profit in the short-term, but we didn't come into this expecting to make a lot of profit in the short-term. We came into this with the idea that if we operate these lands in a very conservative manner and use a much longer horizon over which to evaluate our performance, we could get good results.

Another charge is that MRC is a subsidiary of The Gap Corporation. Is this true, or are you an independent entity?

The facts are that the Mendocino Redwood Company was created through a partnership, of which the primary investors were members of the Fisher family, acting as individuals. The Fishers are also large shareholders in The Gap, which is a publicly traded company. The Fishers do not control The Gap; they do not own 50% of it. The CEO of The Gap is not a member of the Fisher family. The Gap and Mendocino Redwood Company do not have any formal, informal, or legal business relationship of any kind.

We started talking about what we've done in the last year, and I've mentioned one thing, which was new leadership. But there's a whole bunch of other things we've done, too. Maybe I'll just tick them off quickly:

We've lowered the harvest rate. I think that's important. There's no instance that I'm aware of this large an amount of forestland changing hands and the new owner saying, "I'll lower the harvest rate."

We have implemented an open, honest, and responsive way of communicating with anybody who wants to know what we do. That means we return phone calls, we answer letters, we take people - friends, critics, you name it - on our land to look at what's actually going on in the forest, which we think is the most important way to talk about these topics.

We've already touched on it, but we are aggressively pursuing Forest Stewardship Council certification. While it's true that we aren't certified yet, I know of no other landowner of our size in California who is even talking about trying to hold themselves to the standards that have been established by the Forest Stewardship Council.

We have eliminated traditional clearcutting on our land on the advice of the Pacific Forest Trust and Dr. Jerry Franklin, a professor of ecosystem analysis at the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington. He has been one of the leaders in progressive forestry, trying to harvest trees in a way that's much more sensitive to the environment. He is a big proponent of what's called "variable retention," which is the idea that no place on your land will you wind up with large amounts of land - say, 20 acres - with nothing standing. We have adopted variable retention in lieu of traditional clearcutting for all new [timber harvest] plans for 1999.

We have a number of restoration projects going on on our property. We've only been at this a short time, but we're already collaborating with several different organizations to implement restoration projects that will make a difference in the forests and especially in our streams now. We think that is real important.

The last thing I'll mention: we're working on creating a value-added product for tan oak. For people familiar with Northcoast timber issues, this will be old news, but originally the forest was truly something magnificent, dominated by large redwood and douglas fir trees. As a result of almost 150 years of short-sighted management, what was a magnificent forest now has a large amount of tan oak present.

Tan oak is a hardwood and a vigorous, competitive species with the redwood and douglas fir trees. It occupies large amounts of our land, but there's no commercial market for it today. We're trying to create a value-added product for the tan oak, so that we can have more options for dealing with this in the woods. We're harvesting quite a bit of tan oak now, so as to begin the reclamation and rehabilitation of these once productive conifer timberlands. All the other landowners in Mendocino County have the same problem if they choose to harvest tan oak. Many of them choose not to, particularly smaller landowners.

What do you mean? Are you chipping it?

No, we want to create a hardwood flooring product out of tan oak.

About your openness, there are several publishers on the Northcoast who have been critical of MRC, and I want to get this on the record: have Bruce Anderson (Anderson Valley Advertiser), or Richard Johnson (Mendocino Country Environmentalist), or Beth Bosk (New Settler Interview) called you and talked with you yet?

I have not had any contact with either Bruce Anderson or Richard Johnson. Beth and I have had numerous conversations.

Has she interviewed you for her publication?

No, she has not.

We have been willing to talk with anyone who wants to talk with us about what we're doing. The best way to talk about these topics is to go into the woods and look at something specific. That really helps make clear the choices we have to navigate in deciding how to best manage this forest for the future.

Maybe that's a good lead-in to talking about specific areas your critics are referencing, like the J-Road plan, THP-199. There are presumably some serious slide problems in that area. Here's a direct quote from one of your critics: "The company's own geologist told them to pull back 400 cubic yards of sidecast." (Chris Skyhawk, Mendocino Country Environmentalist, May 25) Advice you presumably didn't follow. Is that an accurate statement?

First, let's talk about what the J-Road plan is. The J-Road plan is a 233-acre plan. The entire plan is single-tree selection, which means that basically the foresters go through and mark individual trees to be harvested - or describe to the fallers the kind of trees they want harvested. When you're done with a single-tree plan, there are a lot of trees standing in a well-spaced manner to promote future growth. In particular in J-Road, the forest is still a quite well-stocked, complex, natural-looking forest. There's a lot of vegetation on the ground, and there's a lot of big trees left standing. Other than the fact that the canopy has more light coming through it, it's difficult to see that the area has been harvested. I think if we could do all of our harvest plans like J-Road in terms of single-tree selection, that would be wonderful. Some day we'll be able to, because we'll have the stocking to do it.

The issue of the slides on J-Road is a really important issue to talk about. In the J-Road plan area, there is a road that was built probably 40 years ago. When people built roads 40 years ago, they were built to standards much different than they are built today. One of the things that was done was that people were quite casual about where they deposited fill material that was created in building roads. In the case of J-Road, there's an area that was used as a landing - which is basically a large clearing where you stack the logs up from harvesting - that was built on fill in the path of a class 3 watercourse. That area hasn't been used for a long time, and, independent of any harvesting operations, a year or two ago a portion of that fill material failed and slid down the hill, and some of it probably went into the Albion River.

This is a great example of a legacy problem in our road system that we have in lots of places. The reason we are investing so much money into roads right now is to try and get to these kinds of problems before they fail. We have a road system with lots of roads that were developed with a cut-and-fill method, which means that basically the fill is used as part of the road. We know that some of those roads will fail over time. The most important thing we can do is invest some dollars to try and prevent them from failing by directing water away from areas that might be vulnerable, or pulling back material, fixing culverts, or fill material, identifying and mitigating areas of instability.

That's what you're doing on J-Road?

In the case of J-Road, there was an area that failed. When the plan was being prepared, our forester wanted to figure out the best thing we could do to improve that area given that it had already failed. There were some drainage things done to direct the water away from the area that failed. A geologist came out and looked at it, and he said, "You ought to pull back some of this material adjacent to the failed area." One of the places the geologist recommended pulling back was an area that had a lot of trees on top of the filled material to be pulled back. Which meant that to pull back that 400 yards of material there was going to be a whole bunch of little trees, 10-20 feet tall, that were going to be taken out.

The first time our forester had an excavator working in the area, he looked at that and made a judgement that we would be doing more damage than good to take the fill out. So he decided to not take all that fill out at the time, but he was open to having a geologist come back and re-think it.

In fact one of our critics took a walk with us in the woods because of concern that this material wasn't pulled back. When we went down and looked at it and talked about it, our critic said to me and the forester something to the effect of, "I can understand why you would think that it might be better just to leave this, that it might do more harm than good to remove it."

Because a number of people raised a lot of questions about this, we asked the geologist to come back and give us second opinion and to clarify: did he mean for us to take out this material, knowing that it would create a large disturbance right now and take out a whole bunch of trees, or would we be better off just to leave it?

This is your geologist?

This is an independent geologist who consults with us. He thought about it, and he said, "You know, I think you ought to take it out, even though it will create a large disturbance." So that is now done. When our geologist tells us that in his opinion something ought to be done, we're going to do it. We may ask him sometimes to think about it a second time because we want to balance what we do in the woods to improve the forest with the cost of the disturbance of doing something today.

In this case, there was a judgement to be made, and ultimately when the geologist came back and made a second review, he said, "Yes, I think you ought to take that out." We have taken it out. We could have brought five more geologists out there, and I would bet you that we would have gotten more than one opinion.

The implication of the criticism was that you just wanted those trees regardless of the geology of the area.

This is something, like many of these topics, it's a little bit hard to describe without going out there and looking at it.

Let me make a couple more points about slides and J-Road. The manner in which the material failed is called a "debris slide," which basically means that some surface-level material has slid down the hill. That debris slide sits on top of another kind of slide, which is called a "deep-seated translational landslide." A deep-seated translational landslide is a term that could be applied to large amounts of our land. It's basically one of the geological characteristics of the coast mountains: you have large amounts of dirt and fill and earth that are moving in mass together very slowly. It might be that it would go 60, 80 or 100 feet. So you have a debris slide, which is a road that was built to a poor standard and is failing, that is sitting on top of a deep-seated landslide.

Now the deep-seated landslide here is something that our geologist didn't think was much of an issue because there are no signs of movement. A deep-seated landslide might be 10,000 years old. If there's much movement in a deep-seated landslide, you would normally see some evidence of it, either in the form of cracks or certain kinds of disfiguration in the hill, or, more likely, trees that are leaning or have grown up kind of on a curve, because it looks like they've been moving over time. There's no evidence of that in this area. In fact, the whole area was clearcut in the 1800's, and that intensity of cut didn't trigger the slide.

We are not harvesting any trees immediately below the debris slide, because we wanted to maintain the maximum filter - or buffer, if you will - between the debris slide and the river. But we are harvesting individual trees from areas that would be on top of this deep-seated landslide, and we don't believe that will have any impact on the stability of the soil in that area.

I would say one more time: it is difficult to describe all of the relevant facts around the issue without going out in the woods and seeing the area. If you go see this and you walk it, I think we can make a pretty strong case that we are being very careful about erosion in our harvesting practices. The things we are doing are not going to contribute to instability or erosion that could affect the Albion River. The fact that we are harvesting on J-Road is what facilitates our going in and repairing this debris slide area. If we were not harvesting there, that slide would likely sit there with no attention. It's better to get to those things before they fail. As we've talked about publicly on many occasions, we're investing a lot of money in our roads because we want to deal with those things before they fail, not after. That's an important part of what we do in the woods.

Similar issues are raised on the Clearbrook THP 350.

I'm not familiar with any slide issues on that plan.

Actually, I guess the issues raised were about the road - waterbars and runoff into the river.

You know, I walked that road shortly after those statements were made. CDF has looked at that road, Water Quality has looked at that road, and I think we - CDF and I think Water Quality, though I'm not 100% sure [about them] - were all in agreement that that road was being maintained to an appropriate standard. If I were to take you out to walk that road, I think you would agree that, as a logging road, it's a very good road and not causing problems. You really have to go look at that to be able to draw any conclusions, because my telling you that I've walked the road may not add anything to the discussion.

I think we can say this definitively: we take erosion issues very seriously, and we work hard to try and minimize any potential erosion that can come from our road system. We have 1800 miles of roads, so it's a lot of roads. But, particularly in an area where we are going to be operating, we are certain to make sure that a road is going to be maintained in an appropriate manner.

There were other issues about the Clearbrook plan that we could talk about. That plan is in litigation, and I think the thing that's important to talk about with Clearbrook is that it's a 218-acre plan, 114 acres of which are being harvested with a single-tree selection silviculture. Which basically means that we take a tree here, we take a tree there, but we're retaining at least 60% of the trees. We're leaving more than we're harvesting. Then there's 104 acres of group selection, and group selection is basically taking most of the trees in a small area and leaving most of the trees in a larger area.

In this case, the 104 acres of group selection means harvesting 22 acres and leaving 82. The 22 acres that are harvested will be individual harvest units of 2 1/2 acres each or less. There's no harvesting in the class one stream zones; there's harvesting in one of the four class two stream zones, where we're taking a few trees because it's very well-stocked. There's roadwork that's being done on the road up there; we're installing eleven rocked improvements to rolling dips, we're working on an existing culvert, we're outsloping the roads, and we're correcting the drainage to get it away from an old landing with perched fill that is failing.

This is a good example, similar to J-Road, where we have well-stocked redwood and douglas fir stands. Where we have these well-stocked stands, we are practicing uneven-age management so that our harvesting will have the least impact possible on the integrity of the forest.

One more issue that keeps coming up is the use of herbicides in the forest. I have in front of me former Supervisor Charles Peterson's rather vigorous defense of MRC that was in the Ukiah Daily Journal last October. He says that, first, you're hand-applying Garlon and that you only use it once or twice. Is that right? It's not like with some crops, where there are continuous, annual or semi-annual, applications of huge amounts of chemicals?

It's important to talk about this topic starting at the beginning, which is, Why are we doing this? We have to step back and ask, How did our forest get to be the way it is?

First, before any management was done on these forests, it was, as we talked about earlier, a magnificent forest of redwood and douglas fir trees. We know it was magnificent because we can see the stumps, and, based on the size of the stumps and their spacing, we have a sense of what our forest was like before European settlers began to harvest it.

The first harvest of this area was to burn the harvest area, clearcut it, burn it again - just to kind of clean things up - and then drag the logs down to the river, disrupting the soil and the forest as much as possible, and then float the logs down to the mills. There was no replanting, no reforestation, no consideration for the future of the forest.

The second entry was sometimes a repeat of the first, or sometimes basically a high-grading - taking the biggest trees and leaving the rest. Again, no replanting, no reforestation. Both entries you have to think of as being fairly short-sighted. As a result, we wound up with the tan oak, which is a native species but a very vigorous competitor, taking a strong hold in certain areas of our forest and out-competing the regeneration of redwoods and douglas fir.

The tan oak is a native tree, and we want to have a component of it in our forest, but we don't want it to dominate our forest. We really want to bring the conifers back. A challenging acre for us is one that might have four or five or six redwoods or douglas firs and 50 or 75 or 100 tan oak trees. What we do in those situations is harvest most of both of what's there. Through variable retention, we're retaining some patches of representative portions of the forest and harvesting the balance. We then come back and replant the entire harvest area with redwood and douglas fir seedlings and let the forest do its thing.

The challenge is that, two years after we've done that, when we come back we'll find that the tan oak, in addition to being a vigorous, competitive species, is a vigorous stump-sprouting species. Two years after harvesting, the tan oak will stump-sprout and be the size of a good-sized TV set. Left untreated, two years after that it will be the size of a VW bus. It grows amazingly fast. It will easily out-compete a redwood or a douglas fir planted seedling, which doesn't have the benefit of a pre-existing root structure to help it get its growth going as fast as a tan oak does.

To restore the redwood and the douglas fir, we have to do something about these tan oak trees that will out-compete our conifer seedlings. One thing that works is to treat those stump-sprouted tan oak trees with Garlon.

When we use Garlon, we apply it by hand, plant by plant. We also do three things for which there's no regulatory requirement, but we think is just good policy. The first is that if we're going to use Garlon within 300 feet of someone's property line - other than an industrial timberland owner - we will notify them in writing in advance. So we have a notification policy.

The next thing is, we do not apply Garlon within defined buffers around streams or watercourses.

A third thing is that we and Regional Water Quality Control Board both independently test watercourses next to areas of significant application to make sure this material is not getting into the water supply. We have to wait to do that sometime between late November and late December; we have to wait until there's enough rain so that the water can flow.

We don't expect to find any of this material in the water, but we want to be absolutely sure.

That's what we do with Garlon and why we do it. Charles Peterson's letter was correct in describing that, when using Garlon, we're doing it one time. Sometimes we might have to come back and treat some plants again. But basically it's a single entry to try to restore the redwood and douglas fir forest.

Compared to other crops that take many chemical applications in one year...

I don't know that much about how other people use chemicals in the county, but I know what we do. Charles Peterson's letter did talk about some of the other things that go on.

All of that said, the question is, What can we do about something that is of concern to the community? We have hired a fellow from Sonoma County - his name is Fred Euphrat. Fred is a Phd. and has a background in scientific research. He's a hydrologist, he's a registered professional forester, and he's someone who's done work for the local watersheds. We've asked Fred to quarterback a systematic review of alternatives to treating tan oak stump sprouts with Garlon and still wind up promoting conifer growth in our forests. So that has started, and we will be trying some alternatives on acreage in 1999, because we would like to reduce or eliminate the use of Garlon someday if we can.

You guys are in Mendocino County to stay? You are not going to subdivide?

The reason that we came here is that this is very good forest-growing ground. We were aware that this forest has been harvested heavily over time, but we felt that we could take ownership of this land and operate it for the long-term and bring it back to a more healthy forest.

Since we aren't a publicly-owned company, we aren't subject to short-term, quarterly pressures to demonstrate performance quarter after quarter. We know the things we are doing today - operating a lower level of harvest, investing in our roads, trying to restore land that was once conifer forest that today has a lot of tan oak but could be conifer forest again - we know that those are things that really make sense for the long term, whether or not they show any economic payoff in the short term. In fact most of them cost money in the short term.

Our motivation for coming here was to operate this as a working forest for the long term.

Let's talk about one more area that has gotten a lot of attention, Barn Gulch in Greenwood Creek.

This plan, Barn Gulch, was originally filed by Louisiana-Pacific in 1995 as 194 acres of commercial thinning. The original plan would have harvested trees from the entire 194 acres, including harvesting in the stream zones. We amended the plan late last year because, on closer examination, we didn't think commercial thinning was the best silviculture for the area. We reduced the scope of the plan from 194 acres to 168 acres. Of those 168 acres, 137 acres will have no harvesting. And the 31 acres will be harvested in approximately fifteen two-acre openings that are scattered throughout the plan.

In addition, there's no harvesting in the stream zone, whereas the old plan contemplated harvesting in the stream zone. In the amended plan, we will not be harvesting any individual tree that's 48 inches in diameter or larger and 250 years old or older, which is basically our definition of old growth. As you may know, there's no single accepted definition of old growth, so we've had to come up with the best definition we can. We regard a tree of 48 inches in diameter or larger and 250 years old or older - both of those qualities - to be an old growth tree.

That's a pretty big tree.

Yeah, that's a good-sized tree, although for redwood it's not that big. This plan will not harvest any trees of that size and age.

By the way, I forgot to mention when we talked about Clearbrook, that same provision is in that plan.

One of the claims of critics - I'm looking at an AVA from earlier in the month - is that "only 3% of these forests contain trees more than 24 inches in diameter as of 1996." Is that about right?

No, that's a totally inaccurate statement.

They claim to be quoting L-P's numbers.

Yeah, and this is something that's been discussed-on our web site [] there's a letter from a fellow at Vestra, who attempts to explain why the data that was taken from the SYP [Sustained Yield Plan] to make that statistic does not support in any way that statistic. It's a fairly lengthy explanation, which I would be happy to give you, but I think it's more than you'll want to write down.

Here are some facts based on the inventory work that's been done on our property. This is on our web site, by the way. In the category of 21-24-inch trees, we estimate that we have 700,000 trees. In the over 24-inch category, we estimate that we have a million trees. And we estimate that we have over 9 million conifers over ten inches in size. Those are facts we can support based on inventory work done on our property.

The statistic that you refer to is taken from something called "WHR tables" - Wildlife Habitat Relation tables. The statistics simply are not suitable to make the conclusion that's being made in that statement. We've explained that in a lot of detail on our website.

That relates to the overall condition of your forestland, the notion that the land is in such bad shape that all you can possibly do is take what's left, subdivide and leave.

That view of the world does not square with the forest you see if you fly over or drive our land. Again, I'll go back to what we talked about in the beginning: we have 350 square miles of land, so there's a lot of land out there, and it has more than 9 million trees. That doesn't square with the view that we're down to the last few, and we're going to take the last few and be done.