By Michelle McMillan, Mama Tree Network
The future can be daunting – especially when you’re young, and staring down the barrel of climate instability. A tree sit is simple. It takes a nebulous conversation and distills it to the most minute point: Do not cut this tree. On April 9th, an 18 year old Mendocino High School senior going by the name of “Greasy Pete” climbed onto a plywood platform some 60 feet up a redwood named Mama Tree. By inhabiting this space on the western edge of Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF), he gave the broader public a focal point around which to rally.
Mama Tree is an approximately 200 year old redwood, growing in the Caspar 500 Timber Harvest Plan (THP), a 500 acre portion of the 5 square miles currently approved for cut in JDSF. Comprised of nearly 50,000 acres, Jackson touches many communities and is a significant tourism draw for the county. The tree sit marked a shift in the movement to protect the forest, but it certainly wasn’t the beginning.
In early April, the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo awaited a promised government-to-government consultation to discuss the return of JDSF to tribal control. The Mendocino Trail Stewards called for public participation via their petition, and the surrounding community looked for ways to voice their concerns. Yet the conclusion seemed forgone. Logs had been sold, a contract signed, and timber harvest was set to start soon.
And then, a strange nest appeared in the Mama Tree. The community responded swiftly and exuberantly. There were rallies, blockades, and trainings, hosted by and for activists who stressed the importance of nonviolence principles. In the months since, the movement has only grown, as more people learn about the issues at hand and step forward to take a stand for their futures.
The Coalition to Save Jackson State Forest is a wild and tangled map consisting of often overlapping groups including but not limited to: the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo, the Mendocino Trail Stewards, The Mama Tree Network, Families for the Forest, The Mendocino Environmental Action Collaborative, Redwood Nation Earth First! and the broad community of concerned citizens that have risen up to demand that these forests not be logged.
These groups have their own approaches, making room in the movement for all who are interested. Perhaps one of the most spectacular aspects of the movement is the participation of youth.
In early May, a local 5 year-old resident named Jory and her father invited other families out to spend a Saturday strategizing. This blossomed into a weekly gathering, with children of all ages bringing their parents to learn about the forest, paint signs, and participate. During the introductory circle of one such Saturday gathering Jory stated: “I look up and I think if we don’t have the trees… we’ll die. Because the trees make the oxygen we breathe.”
Coastal Redwoods are the charismatic megafauna of the forest, towering velvety giants with silver red bark that have stood since the time of the dinosaurs. But trees do little compared to the forests they make up. Second growth redwood forests are the world’s most efficient carbon sequestering ecosystems and have been shown to draw upwards of 30 inches of fog drip into the watershed during the dry season. California is in the middle of a record-high drought year, and it needs that water more than ever. Many are being put on water rations, and the state as a whole is gearing up for another catastrophic wildfire season.
For decades now, the public has been fed a story in which logging plays a key role in managing fire risk. This could not be further from the truth. A growing body of research suggests that commercial logging creates conditions for out of control wild fire. Fire on its own is beneficial to redwood ecosystems, and the land depends on it for balance. It is the type of fire that springs out of scarred landscapes that should be feared. Pillaged groves left behind after logging operations have less of a canopy to shade the ground, and are much more susceptible to wind penetration – two factors that increase overall forest dryness. Additionally, logging replaces large trees with kindling-sized new growth, and often results in the creation of large waste piles of dry wood.
CalFire operates in a closed loop in JDSF, writing and approving its own Timber Harvesting Plans (THP) with little thought for community input. In the months since Greasy first climbed Mama Tree, some 20 individuals have taken shifts on the platform, some for mere hours, others for weeks at a time. They have been teenagers eager to take action, older folks saddened by a lifetime of witnessing these backwards timber operations take place, and all ages in between.
Logging started in the Caspar 500 THP early on the morning of June 10th. Although the first trees have fallen, the Coalition to Save Jackson State Forest has never been about just one tree, and the movement to transform forestry practices into something more helpful than harmful only grows.
Those wishing to learn more about the science of forestry or the conversation taking place in JDSF should visit the Mendocino Trail Stewards website.
You can find the tree sitters on Instagram @mama.tree.mendo, or reach them by email at email@example.com