Diggin' In

Then & Now! Richard Gienger Report


Then from Trees Foundation’s Branching Out, Winter 1998-99, first Diggin’ In

It’s hard to know where to start in the midst of so many pressing issues about the forestland watersheds and people of California’s North Coast. Perhaps it is best for me to go back to some of the personal perspectives that I and others brought here in the late 1960s and early 1970s — perspectives that have been tempered by about 30 years of living and loving, trials and tribulations, sharing and caring, pain, loss, and gain in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

Of course, it would take a book and more to adequately cover all of that, so I’ll just hit some of the highlights, and lowlights, to provide some background for this column’s focus on the necessity for establishing a viable and sane future for the North Coast; an economy firmly grounded in conservation rather than none-sustainable extraction. The boom is over. The incredible volume and rate of removal of the North Coast’s forests after World War II—was essentially over by the end of the 60’s for most of the region.

The boom rendered the bust. New settlers, mainly ‘back-to-the landers’, and the remnant ‘old timers’, shared a landscape devastated by the uncontrolled tractor-logging and huge floods of 1955 and 1964. The designated ‘hippies’ were consciously searching for perspective and models on which to base a sustainable life for themselves and their children. The model before them, with a skid trail every 50 yards, ravaged hillsides and streams, and ghost town junctions, didn’t seem to be it. A lot of time was spent searching out elders and their perspectives. Ray Raphael’s book, An Everyday History of Somewhere, was a manifestation of that need. Copies of Gladys Ayer Nomland’s Sinkyone Notes from the Briceland Book Store were commonly found on homesteaders’ bookshelves and gave both hope for restoring some ancient balances, and a horrifying glimpse at the genocide perpetrated by a colonial mentality…

The current effort to protect the precious remnants of the original forest, to restore the damaged watersheds, and to establish a truly sustainable forestland economy persisted and persists. For example, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) of Garberville, founded during the aerial herbicide-spray wars in the 70’s, continues its efforts with special focus on coho salmon, marbled murrelet, and the Headwaters Forest. The Institute for Sustainable Forestry carries on Jan Iris’ vision of smallscale restoration forestry applied on a regional basis. Community-based watershed groups, including commercial salmon fishers and Tribes, seek and carry out contracts for road repair and watershed and fisheries rehabilitation. There are hundreds of such organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest…

This was taken during a tour involving UC Extension and Cal Fire, Jackson Demonstration State Forest, and other public and government persons. Shown is some fairly recently cut-over land in the foreground with some of the recovering “real forest” beyond. Note the large old-growth redwood stump near the center of the photo. Several controversies are raging. How much recovery is enough given current conditions and imperatives? How can the situation and decisions be transparent enough, with truly qualified multidisciplinary and public equity participation, to make a clear set of alternatives, and to select the best given the historical, cultural, climate imperatives? The needed standards have been failed to be set for JDSF and for all of California’s forests. In the battle for the implementation of the 1973 Forest Practice Act, the industry strong-armed the legislators to avoid enforceable standards and give sway to “professional discretion.” This led to the continued depredation of the forests allowing for the adverse conditions that will not be corrected with lower quality forests, massive thinning feeding biomass plants all over the state, with “professional” claims that the massive amounts of CO2 produced will all be removed and piped into underground strata.
all photos this article by Richard Gienger

In summary, we are at a crossroads. The coho salmon are listed as threatened or endangered in California. At least 19 water bodies, including the Eel River system, the Mattole, Elk River, and Freshwater Creek, are listed as impaired by the Environmental Protection Agency, with a schedule established for achieving corrective measures in the coming months and years for each watershed. The industry-dominated Board and Department of Forestry have failed, for over twenty years, to establish adequately implemented procedures for protection and restoration of timberland productivity and the beneficial uses of water… The residents of Elk River and Freshwater Creek are suffering 20-year or larger flood events due to increased filling of channel capacity, with sediment and increased runoff from depleted forest cover resulting from Pacific Lumber’s (PL) liquidation logging. Most Humboldt County residents are left with three options for livelihood: work as minions of the extractive model for PL and other large companies, work for some form of the government, or work as an ‘outlaw’— not a good set of options.

The upshot: A viable alternative—one that gives people the choice and chance to earn a livelihood based on conservation—must be established. A conservation model is already available if current laws and regulations were adequately implemented. Thousands of people should and can be employed in the arts and sciences of watershed recovery, and in the implementation and monitoring of recovery measures. Thrashed timberland needs to be acquired for long-term stewardship. Enforcement of adequate conservation measures should range from heavy penalties for continued blatant excesses by companies like PL, to meaningful incentives for small landowners, like large tax breaks and large cost shares that enable adequate assessments, recovery plans, implementation, and monitoring. The creation of small businesses that contract for watershed recovery measures is an important part of the change that needs to be made. We must be inspired to a team effort that unites the people in conserving and sustaining the forestland resources that support us and future generations. We need a new process now, and we need your help!

Now The Saga Continues, Richard Gienger’s Diggin’ In 2021

The Board of Forestry continues to suppress the public and pretty much pander to the plantation industry on everything. One example is failing to implement the promised reforms of AB 1492 since its passage into law in 2012 that funds “Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration” from taxes/fees paid by the public for retail lumber products. There has also been failure to implement the standards for quality timber products and forests called for by the 1973 Forest Practice Act. They have presided over the change from a broader oversight of forestry to a top-grade emergency and fire-fighting entity with standards for forest stewardship lost in the panic and scale of catastrophic fires.

The general California State focus is on huge scale and technology while slighting real solutions on the smaller local scales that make a difference and can reconnect human rural communities to long-term forest relationship and recovery.

Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) and Usal Redwood Forest (URF) Forester, Linwood Gill, gestures toward the clogged and hazardous stand of mainly Douglas-fir in the Standley Creek watershed. Standley Creek along with three other creeks in the URF that are tributary to the South Fork Eel River have been designated as high priority by CDFW and NOAA Fisheries for restoration of the vitally important coho & Chinook Salmon and steelhead refugia of the South Fork. RFFI and URF hope their proposed project for comprehensive forest and watershed recovery for Standley will be successful and implemented. Already there have been over 3 million dollars invested in a successful 6-stage, multi-year, multi-partner, road impact removal, and reduction project. The stand in this photo illustrates the typical mismanagement effects on northcoast forests since WWII that lays us open for catastrophic wildfire and drought.

The public is mobilized through the cutting of large second growth in Jackson to make the reforms that have been continually bypassed but are necessary NOW. Pacific Forest Trust snappily put it in a short video: “Keeping the Forest in Forestry.”

Following is a letter I wrote on behalf of Forests Forever and Why Forests Matter regarding Jackson Demonstration State Forest. People are standing up for the forest on many levels as I write. A hella coalition is coming together. People talk about the so-called timber wars being all about old growth. They weren’t just over that then and they certainly aren’t now. The contention is over the whole forest. Go to Mendocino Trail Stewards for starters.

27 April 2021

Some Perspectives on Forestry in California and the Immediate Crises Facing Forests in Jackson Demonstration State Forest and in California

To the Department & Board of Forestry and Fire Protection,
Jackson Demonstration State Forest,
Sacramento & Fort Bragg, California

Dear ALL

I have had some direct overview and experience in North Coast and California forest and watershed issues since 1971, and have read and listened extensively to a wide range of relevant stories and accounts covering a much wider amount of time. A lot of this overview and experience has involved direct evaluation of conditions, including planning and implementation of forest and watershed recovery measures. Other overviews and experiences include administrative, legal, and legislative contention over forest practices and restoration, as well as helping to raise three, now adult, children mostly on a windswept ridge over the Pacific.

Some may think this is a rash thing to say, but I think people need to step back a bit and take the time to get a long view on suitable care of the North Coast lands and peoples that is not continued blind, heedless, and harsh application of the dominant paradigm of search and destroy. It greatly impressed me seeing a photo some years back in a Laytonville calendar showing the smoking town of Fort Bragg back in the 19th-century days, the stumps larger than the houses, which seem to be on the order of the “earthquake shacks” shown in a SF Chronicle story last week.

This is not to belittle the immensity of the effort that transformed the vibrant forests, rivers, and millennial living relationships into squose [pragmatic-utilitarian] communities mainly dependent on monetized and obliterated forests. The book is called Big River Was Dammed by W. Francis Jackson.

This is not to discredit the many examples of “civil society” that evolved, some of which were essential to bring protection to a few remnant areas of original forest and to enact conservation measures to some forested areas. I would strongly recommend the books, articles, and presentations by forester, industry, and government historian Tobe Arvola. There are others who need to be paid attention to like Emmanuel Fritz and Woodbridge Metcalf: incredible lifetime experiences and examples to pass forward.

I was told by the brilliant conservationist Richard Wilson, who was a major player in preventing the flooding of Round Valley with a dam at Dos Rios, and also was the Director of the California Department of Forestry during the 1990s, that the legendary Emmanuel Fritz spoke to the leaders of the timber industry, and probably some legislators, toward the end of WW II. They were expecting him to lavish praise on them for their supportive role in WW II, and he may have, but his main message was for as much of the cutover and burned-over land as possible to be placed in a state forest system. There was huge resistance that prevented this from happening, although Jackson Demonstration State Forest was able to be established.

I am going to have to go to an oversimplified outline to take us from the ad valorem boom times from post WW II to its end in 1976 after the modern Forest Practice Act (FPA) of 1973. Then there are the complex and difficult changes that continue today, changes that are necessary to bring a true long-term conservation ethic for application to forested watersheds and elsewhere. It is very relevant of course to point out that the ravaged forest that was Jackson Demonstration State Forest in 1947 now has at least three times more board footage per acre than comparable commercial-industrial managed forestlands. The State of California has a big role in this, both for restraint in Jackson (often requiring strong public action) and the cruel policy of the ad valorem tax that required annual taxation on standing timber until 70% was cut.

One of the biggest changes from the 1973 FPA was the actual incorporation of oversight and professional planning and approval of Timber Harvest Plans (THPs). All previous boom times from Atlantic to Pacific just required the capability to cut and haul logs from forest to market. Now a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) was required for THP approval. Not only that, but after the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was brought to bear, diluted down to a “functional equivalent” of an Environmental Impact Report (log trucks circling the State Capitol), other multidisciplinary involvement was required. Talk about a huge change! One of the most important disciplines that became engaged was/is geologic review. There is a much more detailed evolved process, under pressure from industry
and Cal Fire.

What I do want to do is show how the California Department of Forestry (now Cal Fire) has had a very uneven record in being responsive to basic and essential aspects of public trust and regulatory and legal mandates. A lot of the problem has been lack of process transparency and true public engagement and participation. There has been some improvement from time to time, usually only after intense and difficult effort. There are too many examples to describe them all here, including the current issues at Jackson.

I’ll give a few examples that I am personally familiar with. Some are part of the Sinkyone Wilderness Coast struggle and some are related to the Headwaters Forest saga. Off the top, note that CDF/CalFire is the lead agency approving actions that were overturned by the courts in these examples. The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) and the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) won in California Appeals Court over what had become the Sally Bell Grove. In 1985 the Court ruled that CDF had failed to consider cumulative effects, failed to adequately consult with Indian Tribes and persons, failed to ensure that the Native American Heritage was being protected, and had violated required administrative procedures. One could make a fair argument that the same failure exists today over the current set of approved and submitted THPs. Prior to that ruling CDF had denied that the Grove and the THP constituted an Indian issue. At the Superior Court level, CDF plan approver Johnson, when asked whether he felt that CDF was required to consider cumulative impacts, replied, “No, but if they are, we did.”

In one of the many cases brought by EPIC and the Sierra Club against CDF PL/Maxxam over essential information required to evaluate significant adverse impacts, CDF sided with Maxxam in claiming that information about the actual existence of listed Marbled Murrelets in and their use of the THP area in question was
not necessary.

A third egregious example was CDF claiming that there was no significant cumulative impact from a THP submitted before a 300,000-cubic-yard torrent ripped down the stream habitat-restored Bear Creek into the Eel River during the 1996-97 New Year’s storms. It was approved by them with the same claim in mid 1997. The Humboldt County judge backed them up—CDF is the lead agency, and if they say it’s OK, it’s OK.

I’m sure there are plenty of substantive allegations backing a halt and reset with the current operations approved or being proposed. Is Cal Fire trying to liquidate a major amount of large second-growth trees? Are these trees and other major forest components a basic element for addressing climate issues into the future? Has planning gotten behind? Jackson is an essential model for the future—a model of great importance for achieving the long-term standards needed in all the forests in California—going way beyond a stepped-up scale of thinning and prescribed burning.

It behooves all involved parties to step back from logging in these recovering redwood areas containing large second growth—catch up with planning and appropriate actions for the multifaceted present and future. A double blue ribbon panel, with the best and broadest representation possible, should be selected ASAP. The panel should have up to two years, with adequate staffing and public review, to do the necessary work to come up with the right model and alternatives for Jackson. These must fulfill the promise of the healthy forest with a preponderance of older and larger trees shown on page 19 of the LAO California Forest and Watershed Report of April 2018. The obvious incentives exist for Jackson. The standards and incentives coming from this effort can be applied to the forests, watersheds, and future generations in California.

Sincerely, Richard Gienger and on behalf of Forests Forever and Why Forests Matter

And here’s a couple of links for you

One from John D. O’Brien, climate scientist, and one from Laurie Wayburn of Pacific Forest Trust with her perspective on the 7-million-acre North and Northeastern California project getting underway. This project is formally called “California FORESITE” implementing AB 2551 from 2018 legislation by Jim Wood. The official link below should get you conversant on multiple levels.




One heartening bit of news, similar to what occurred this Spring in the Garcia River (see page 30), is that a surprise late surge of spawning Steelhead made it up the Mattole to lower spawning habitat in late April and even early May. Word has also come that the habitat improvement work in Sholes and Four Mile Creek last year seem to be now used by increased numbers of salmonid juveniles.

To Get Involved

Please help out where and when you can. Check out the work and other information for Sanctuary Forest, the Institute for Sustainable Forestry (ISF), EPIC, Forests Forever, Why Forests Matter, and Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. Thank you, Trees Foundation! – rg