Independent Coast Observer
April 23, 2004

Five years ago the Fisher family, owners of the GAP clothing stores, bought out Louisiana Pacific's holdings and created Mendocino Redwood Company LLC.

Tuesday evening, MRC forest manager Russ Shively agreed to serve on the board of the Gualala River Watershed Council. He manages 60,000 acres dotted across the landscape from Greenwood Ridge in Mendocino County to Willow Creek in Sonoma County.

The Willow Creek timberland was one of the destinations of a field trip during the Redwood Science Symposium held last month in Rohnert Park. Sandy Dean of MRC gave a speech, "After Five Years," at the symposium.

"Decisions were made 150 years ago to aggressively manage redwood forest to take fiber out," Dean said, adding "nothing can change that, but we can look forward." MRC believes they can manage with stewardship while making a profit.

Dean's background was investment before becoming involved in forestry; it was dry and sterile compared with the redwood forest and its natural aspects, including numbers of species that depend upon it. MRC spends $10 million per year on habitat improvements.

Redwood helped build San Francisco twice, after the Gold Rush and after the earthquake and fire of 1906.
"Our forests have suffered an ecological injury at the hand of man," Dean went on, including an 1,800 mile legacy road system that they are repairing.

MRC does both aquatic habitat improvement and upslope habitat improvement. They created maps of their landscape showing planning out 45 years, using Cottoneva Creek in northern Mendocino County as a pilot. The company plans to harvest at one third of growth rate.

They are conducting fish barrier removal, with culverts impassible by fish replaced with passable bridges.

The millions they spend in six years "is visible on the ground, and it is making a difference," Dean said. In one instance in the Garcia River watershed, they had juvenile fish the very next year.

Large tracts of MRC timberland are mostly tanoak, a native species that regrows from sprouts much like redwood does. "One theory is, once cut; they grow back faster because they are mad." Dean said getting it managed may take 30 years. He should old aerial photographs of logging that contributed to the tanoak problem.

To prevent tanoak proliferation in the future, MRC may eliminate traditional clearcutting. Instead, they may employ "variable retention." They are thinking carefully about what they might retain, such as 20 percent of a stand.

Applying variable retention to understocked conifer forest, they can take out tanoak and replant conifers. In this way they hope they can adjust the species balance in the forest, and shift it to an uneven stand, creating a more diverse forest for the future.

The company is looking into ways to reduce use of herbicides. In one treatment of tanoak, they inject herbicide into a standing tree and let it fall down and add duff to the soil. They looked at natural chemicals such as vinegar and eucalyptus oil, and physical methods such as goats.

Selective harvest of 30-40 percent of a stand brings more light on the forest floor, which can release growth in redwoods. Downed woody debris and snags are an important component of the forest.

"There is no single accepted definition of what is Old Growth," Dean went on. Is it a stand? A tree? MRC "moved to a single tree definition" that can be readily identified in the field: tree from 1800 or prior; redwood 48 inches in diameter, Doug fir 36 inches in diameter, or any tree with a flat top, deeply ridged bark, cavities, and so on. They preserve pygmy forest and rocky outcrops.

MRC is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. In 1999 they made their first effort at certification and later achieved it. The FSC is an independent group that looks at what timber companies do with an annual audit.

The company is working on Endangered Species habitat conservation plan - Dean prefers to call it a habitat development plan. "It seems to us that overall management of endangered species will work better."

He feels they need to restore public trust. "We will always work on it," he said, adding that they have made progress by operating in an open, transparent fashion. They welcome visitors, have an information website, and host people on MRC lands.