The Next Phase Begins
When the Board of Forestry approved the new management plan for Jackson State Forest on January 9, 2008, it marked a milestone in the long struggle to reform management of Jackson Forest.
In thinking about where the reform effort goes from here, I found myself thinking about how we got to this point.
1995 marked the first public demonstration against the industrial logging practices that had characterized management of Jackson Forest since it started operations in the early 1950s. Demonstrations escalated in following years, with activists chaining themselves to gates in hopes of preventing logging in redwood stands that had grown back untouched for nearly 100 years.
The demonstrations failed to halt the first logging in what was then 10,000 contiguous acres of prime, old, untouched second growth redwood stands in the center of the forest. In 1996 and following years, the California Department of Forestry (CDF), focused its logging on these older, untouched second growth areas. In each of 1996 and 1997, nearly 100,000 trees were cut, sending over $10 million in each year to fund general forestry programs.
As protests mounted, the then Director of CDF, Richard Wilson, established a Citizen's Advisory Committee in 1997 to make a review of Jackson policies. The committee met for over a year, and despite strong restrictions on its scope of authority, it recommended sweeping changes in the management practices. The recommendations were completely ignored by CDF, which apparently was concerned only with continuing the cash flow into its forestry funds.
In 2000, the Campaign to Restore Jackson State Forest came into existence, with the stated mission of restoring the forest to old growth for recreation, habitat, and education. The Campaign was led by people in Mendocino County who had tried to work with the state to get reform and got nowhere. This time, they were determined to prevail.
Unfortunately, in 2000, Jackson Forest was "the forest no one knew." There was almost no awareness of Jackson Forest even within Mendocino County and none outside of it. Mounting a political campaign faced huge hurdles.
The Campaign began by trying to negotiate with CDF, to no avail. When CDF rebuffed requests to halt logging until a new management plan could be developed (the last update to the plan was in 1985), the Campaign filed suit asking that the existing plan be declared out of date and legally invalid. CDF paid no attention.
The suit came before the court in 2001 after the state approved two huge timber harvest plans in the unentered stands of old second growth that were in the heart of the prime recreation area -- Brandon Gulch and Camp 3.
Much to the amazement and consternation of CDF and the local timber industry, Judge Henderson of the Mendocino Superior Court issued a restraining order against logging these plans in April, 2001 and followed this with a preliminary injunction in May.
The state made various efforts to evade or circumvent the rulings, but all efforts were turned back. In 2002, the state reached an agreement not to do further logging until a new management plan was in place.
The next five years saw repeated efforts by the state to push through management plans that were simply rewrites of its old plans, accompanied by inadequate environmental documents. The Campaign brought suit and won again in 2003 -- although CDF did get free of court restraints for 5 days, during which it cut down 2,000 trees in Brandon Gulch.
Giving up hope that the state would ever listen to reason, the Campaign and the Sierra Club persuaded state Senator Wes Chesbro to sponsor a reform bill in 2004. The bill, SB 1648, passed both houses of the legislature but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.
Even though the bill was vetoed, the Campaign had gained over 5,000 new members, most legislators learned a lot about Jackson Forest, and the Board of Forestry now knew that it had a hot potato on its hands.
Still, CDF remained steadfast in its position of ignoring public concerns and recommendations as it continued to work on a new set of environmental documents to support the same old kind of logging-oriented management plan.
The tide turned, ironically, because of the big fires in Southern California in 2005. This led Schwarzenegger to appoint Ruben Grijalva, a fireman, to be the director of CDF -- which is formally the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. For the first time, a non-timber person was the head of CDF, and Mr. Grijalva lost little time in breaking down the walls that CDF had built against allowing the public into the policy process.
In April, 2006, Director Grijalva invited me to meet with him and his staff. In the course of a long and open discussion, Mr. Grijalva and I agreed we would work toward a consensus solution to the stalemate over Jackson.
The rest, as the phrase goes, is history. We have now reached consensus among all of the major interests -- the timber industry, the environmental community, CDF, and the Board of Forestry. A plan for resuming operation has been approved by all -- but the story is not over.
When the Mendocino Working Group that developed the consensus plan that has been adopted, it recognized that it could not and should not attempt to develop a detailed plan for management of the forest. This would require more time and resources that the group could commit.
The group's solution was to propose that harvest operations resume at a low level with relatively low-impact harvests in non-controversial areas. An advisory committee would be organized with balanced representation and charged with developing a consensus on a long-term landscape plan for the forest. It would be given three years in which to complete this plan, during which time harvesting would continue to be severely constrained.
The advisory group has now been authorized and given a clear charter to do the work. The next step is the appointment of its members. There is good reason to expect that the advisory group will be well balanced among the different interests and have competent and dedicated members. It will need all of those qualities, plus more, to develop a plan that all will feel is fair and effective. I am optimistic they will succeed.