By Christopher Chung

Santa Rosa Press Democrat

October 12, 2008

Mike Jani pilots his pickup across a seasonal bridge above the Eel River and stops near a clearing littered with redwood stumps and scattered forest brush.

"This is what the previous management was all about," the chief forester of Humboldt Redwood Co. said.

He's referring to clear-cutting, or what in timber parlance is known as "even-aged management," in which nearly all of the trees in a harvest area are removed.

Critics of the practice say it destroys habitat and creates an eyesore. Supporters, which include Green Diamond Resource Co., the other dominant redwood producer on the North Coast, contend that clear-cutting spurs better longterm growth by opening up an area to full sunlight.

But Humboldt Redwood, since taking over Pacific Lumber, has promised not to carry on the practice on any of the 210,000 acres now under its control.

For anyone who doubts that pledge, company officials point to what they've already accomplished with their timber holdings in Mendocino County, where traditional clear-cutting on what once was Louisiana-Pacific lands has ceased.

It's also worth noting Jani's background. As the former chief forester for Santa Cruz County's Big Creek Timber Co., he oversaw timber operations that were the first in California to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit organization that encourages environmentally sound logging practices.

Mendocino Redwood has since earned that same distinction. Jani said he hopes to duplicate that success in Humboldt County.

Continuing up a hillside, he stopped the truck above a grove where only some redwoods had been felled. The remaining trees, besides providing for future revenue, will offer habitat for owls and other creatures.

The approach favors long-term returns over short-term profits. It also means loggers are having to learn a new system.

A group of men using a machine called a yarder to bring logs up the hill dodged trees left behind as part of the selective removal.

Driving away, Jani spotted a flattened-out area known as a skid trail where trees had previously been brought out. He was pleased to see that workers had covered the trail with forest debris as opposed to leaving it bare.

"They're getting it," he said with a smile.

-- Derek J. Moore