A Few of Our Partners Revisit Projects From Years Past and Share Where They Stand Today
Why I’ve Rejoined the Battle to Restore Jackson State Forest
By Vince Taylor
Starting in the mid 1990s, I began working to change the management of Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF) away from its single-minded focus on commercial timber operations. Initially, I focused on providing argument, evidence, and analysis to management. All efforts were disputed and ignored.
In 2000, I formed the Campaign to Restore Jackson State Forest (the Campaign). For the next 11 years, I spent the major share of my energy and time on the Campaign. Our first effort was to develop a set of moderately improved goals for JDSF. When we took them to management in Sacramento, their response was, “We are already doing all that you want!” I was to learn that this is always their attitude.
Having learned this lesson, in June of 2000, the Campaign filed suit to halt all further logging in JDSF on grounds that their management plan was badly out of date. After the suit was filed, management halted further logging pending outcome of the suit. We won that suit and four more follow-on cases challenging the adequacy of their environmental analyses in support of their logging plans.
The legal actions halted all logging in Jackson Forest for nine years. Without these actions, JDSF would have been cutting 38 million board feet of timber per year, focusing on the oldest and biggest trees, often using various types of clearcuts.
In 2006, while JDSF was still tied up in court, for the first time ever, the Director of the California Department of Forestry (CDF, now Cal Fire) invited me to talk. He had been recently appointed, brought in from a municipal fire position, and had no ties to timber or JDSF. We quickly reached agreement to attempt to develop a long-term plan for management of JDSF that would satisfy all interests—recreational, environmental, research, and the Mendocino timber interests.
In 2008, after the consensus planning process was well underway and CDF had agreed to a continued halt on new THPs until the process was completed, I agreed to settle the current lawsuit and allow (significantly modified) logging of the two THPs that had been enjoined since 2002. In retrospect, I should not have given up this leverage.
To make a long and arduous story short, an advisory group with leaders from every JDSF-related interest group met over the next five years, intensively for two and one-half years. Almost miraculously, the advisory group reached complete consensus on a plan that allocated significant parts of the forest to be logged only in ways that would enhance return toward old growth, required all other logging to be done in ways consistent with future restoration of old growth, reduced all types of clearcutting to very low levels, required that timber operations done for research purposes needed to be tied to a specific, well-developed, peer-reviewed research project, and provided for greatly enhanced recreation opportunities.
After the final votes were taken by the advisory group, in my naiveté, I thought I had accomplished what seemed unimaginable 11 years prior. All factions were in agreement. I and the Campaign’s supporters celebrated.
I was to be taught another lesson. The Department of Forestry is not a monolithic organization. Although the then-current leadership was committed to the consensus process when it began, the Director changed before it ended. The old guard at JDSF and the department had always been outraged over losing their control to a bunch of tree huggers. In the end, they had their way.
For the consensus plan to be adopted and legal, the Board of Forestry had to approve it, which I thought was a mere formality because all parties had come to consensus agreement. The old guard had other ideas. Working in secret with a forester member of the Board of Forestry, devastating amendments were made to the consensus plan. The amended plan was brought before the Board on July 13, 2011, with no warning to any of the parties to the consensus. Without any opposition, the Board approved the amendments. I learned the meaning of perfidy.
On September 11, 2011, I resigned from all connections to JDSF and CDF and walked away from the forest that I had devoted so much of my life to. It was too painful. I did not look back for ten years, until a new group of citizens of the coast, led by Chad Swimmer and John O’Brien, organized the New Campaign to Restore Jackson State Forest. Gradually, they reengaged me, and now I am fully committed to assisting the New Campaign. In my prior years of engagement, I collected a wealth of information and experience. I made CDF face up to hard truths before. I expect to help do this again.
The Mendocino Trail Stewards: When Does a Struggle Become a Movement?
By Chad Swimmer
I am on the phone explaining why the Trail Stewards have not yet filed a lawsuit to stop the Mitchell Creek timber harvest plan. “You see, officially there is a limited window to initiate litigation. We can’t submit before Cal Fire approval and then we have only thirty days to….” I am interrupted by my seven-year-old, who sticks his gap-toothed face in mine to exclaim knowingly: “Blah blah, blah blah… blah.” He has heard this all before, is nearly an authority on the subject, but he’d rather talk fighter planes and knock-knock jokes, not to mention the 729-piece Mendocino Trail Stewards Legos set he’ll be designing soon. And he’d really prefer that I take a break from trying to save the trees. But he knows, and my wife does as well, that I can’t step back now, at this uncertain threshold. Will the Trail Stewards make any headway with the state? Can we save Jackson? Have we inadvertently rekindled a movement?
The struggle to change the legislative mandate of the Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF) has certainly consumed the lives of many of us. When the Trail Stewards was founded last March, fear of the oncoming pandemic held the whole nation in thrall. Meanwhile, we were safe in our little corner of the republic, with next to no cases, literally worried as much about losing access to our favorite mountain bike trails as about dying from SARS-COVID-2. We weren’t oblivious to the problems that define us now—logging, climate, wildfire, water scarcity—but we had been spared from seeing the worst of Cal Fire’s forest management practices, partly by Vince Taylor’s successful lawsuit, which shut down logging from 2001 to 2008. Just as important, the size of JDSF has allowed the bulk of the operations since then to occur miles away, a couple ridges over. Our entire objective then was a 5,000-acre recreation-priority reserve.
Fifteen months later, in the midst of another record-breaking heat wave, the entire state mired in drought emergency, we have become a whole different creature. The Caspar 500 THP, with famous mountain bike trails right in my backyard has become the site of an iconic tree sit. The Mama Tree grove has become a place where children have immersed themselves in nature, community has gathered, and music has been played—that is, until the second week of June when logging operations started, activists stepped forward, and this became yet another front in the international struggle to change human beings’ abusive relationship with the natural world.
The Trail Stewards are now part of two coalitions: the Mendocino Environmental Action Collaborative and the Coalition to Save Jackson State Forest, groups that include the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, Mama Tree Mendo, the Mendocino Institute, Redwood Nation Earth First!, the Grassroots Institute, Families for the Forest, the Pacific Alliance for Indigenous Environmental Action, and the Environmental Protection Information Center, among others. Nearly every state official with any connection to forests or natural resources is aware of our existence and has been forced to consider our cause.
Large trees, unfortunately, are falling now, but no longer in some far corner of California, light years away from Sacramento. Mendocino County is in the spotlight. Where fifteen months ago we didn’t know how to read nor submit comments on a timber harvest plan, we are now instrumental in disseminating the information that makes this movement possible. Our target is now the entire 50,000 acres of JDSF—and more: we want to change the management of the state forest system, to get Cal Fire out of forest management so they are free to do what they do best: fight fires.
More importantly, we are not alone. The struggle to save Jackson has captured the imagination of children as young as five. We have received donations from places as far away as Maine and Florida. If we were to close up shop today, others would continue onward, setting their lives aside for this gem of a forest.
We have gone beyond the tangible. Saving JDSF has become central to the very identities of many people we have never met, all over California. We are standing on the shoulders of the First Campaign to Restore Jackson, but we have tapped into a greater store of energy, uncorked a genie’s bottle. These grand redwoods, understated trillium, delicate wine-colored agarics, and diminutive but garrulous Winter Wrens have wormed their way into the hearts of many who now embrace them as their own. We are now the New Campaign to Restore Jackson State Forest, and we welcome you all with open arms.