By Mike A’Dair
The Willits News Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006

Mike Jani, lead forester of the Mendocino Redwood Company, announced this week that progress is being made on a sextet of environmental and planning documents that, when complete, should clarify and legitimize the plans, priorities and operations of his company for the next 80 years.

The documents include a Habitat Conservation Plan to satisfy the Coho and Chinook salmon concerns of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a Natural Communities Conservation Plan to address concerns from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a Long Term Streambed Alteration Agreement to clarify the company’s procedures with the California Department of Fish and Game, a Memorandum of Understanding with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which will clarify how the various plans will work together to insure water quality, and a Timber Management Plan which will explain how MRC will guarantee MSP (maximum sustained productivity of high quality timber products) over the planning horizon.

In addition, the California Department of Forestry (CDF) stated that it is preparing a Programmatic Timberland Environmental Impact Report/ Environmental Impact Study (PTEIR) which will assess how the plans and policies laid out in the Forest Management Plan will affect the ecology and environment on MRCs 230,000 acres of timberland in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties.

Jani said that the various state and federal agencies have agreed to use the documents in order to address their concerns. All agencies will be relying on the same documents to approve their part of the pie, he said. As a result of a number of recent lawsuits, and of laws that have been passed in Sacramento, we have reached a point whereas in the past we used to have to get one permit to harvest timber now it is not unusual that we have to get five separate permits in order to harvest timber. So (this effort we are now engaged in) is our attempt to organize all those various process into one master plan.

Jani said that the process has been seven years in the making and has already cost about $2 million. He said that they are close to being finished. A timeline provided by Jani indicates that CDF should be completed with the draft version of the PTEIR by late this year, that public hearings on the document should be held by the middle of next year, and that approval from the various state and federal agencies should be in hand by the middle of 2008.

After that, MRC will have a green light to operate with regular monitoring and reassessment for the next 80 years.

At a public scoping meeting on the PTEIR held in Ukiah this week, Jani and other staff from MRC painted a rosy picture of how operations in the company are resolving problems and healing wounds left by the former owner, Louisiana Pacific.

He noted that timber inventory is increasing, moving from 2.3 billion board feet in 1998 to 2.6 billion board feet today. He said that the company continues to cut trees at a very conservative rate, about one third of growth. According to Jani, in round numbers, the company is growing about 100 million board feet of timber a year, and cuts approximately 30 million board feet a year which nowadays is about half of the total timber harvest in the county. Based on current inventories, this means that the company is cutting at a Percent of Inventory of 1.16--roughly half of that which was recommended by the county’s Forest Advisory Committee in the early 1990s. From an environmental point of view, this means that the company is twice as good as that moderately conservative rate--2 Percent of Inventory that was recommended by Hans Burkhardt, Eric Swanson and others during the FAC process.

The increase in timber inventory that has occurred so far at MRC is in keeping with the overall plan that was communicated to Jani by the company owners, when he was hired as lead forester in 1998.

Our goal was to develop a plan that would double our inventory over a fifty year period, Jani said.

According to MRC Stewardship Director Sarah Billig, the Northern Spotted Owl is making a comeback under the previous eight years of MRC management. Billig has identified 120 owl nesting territories and estimates that there likely are approximately 200 Northern Spotted Owls living on MRC timberlands.

According to Billig, the Habitat Conservation Plan portion of the Forest Management Plan will address providing habitat for the Marbled Murrelet, the red legged frog, the tailed frog, the Northern Spotted Owl, the Coho and Chinook salmon and the Steelhead Trout.

Another indicator that things have changed under MRC management was the composition and tone of the scoping meeting itself. Gone were the acrimonious crowds, the screaming mothers, the brilliant feats of rhetoric that used to electrify the passionate and divided audiences of yesteryear. By contrast, the scoping meeting was attended by only 15 people, most of whom appeared to be there in some official or work-related capacity.

Sierra Club representative Kathy Bailey appeared guardedly optimistic about the work that MRC and CDF are going to do on the two documents.

I want to believe that these guys are gonna do this right, Bailey said. That would be great.

Bailey mentioned that she had reservations about the 80-year horizon that would apply to the HCP portion of the document. I support the idea of long range planning, Bailey said. But there are some things that are troubling about this document. Foremost among those would be the 80 year window here. I think that is way too long. Because it means that you have to try to foresee everything that will happen for the next 80 years. I find that inconceivable. I mean, who knew about global warming 20 years ago? Or who knew about acid rain, or ozone depletion? So I would ask, is it possible that something will arise over the next 80 years that could have an impact on this Long-Term Management Plan?

Bailey stated that the Sierra Club will be paying close attention to what MRC is doing. I think it’s important for people to really pay attention on this document when it comes out, she said. The Sierra Club is going to have to raise some significant money so a massive document like this has some competent review.

In the meantime, Jani says that he is pleased that his company has come so far on wending its way through such a demanding and labyrinthine process. I’m encouraged by this process because my foresters will spend more time on the ground doing work, rather than sitting in their offices putting out verbiage, he said.