OpEd: Why Is CAL FIRE Trying to Silence Its Critics?

Mendocino Trail Stewards

Author’s note: we mean no disrespect to first responders, but CAL FIRE has two conflicting mandates—forestry and fire response, making any criticism of one appear to be criticism of the other. See CAL FIRE Divorce by Richard A. Wilson, Director of CDF from 1991-1999. 

On September 29, 2021, State Forests Manager Kevin Conway sent an email to Chad Swimmer, President of the Mendocino Trail Stewards: “Unauthorized special use… on JDSF [Jackson Demonstration State Forest–at 78 square miles California’s largest State Forest] is a violation of State law and continuing to do so will result in a criminal and civil action….” This threat comes in response to a burgeoning effort by hundreds of activists working to stop the harvest of majestic redwood trees ostensibly owned by the people of California. He points to videos produced with the use of drones, videos that explicitly document practices denied by officials in Sacramento

The Trail Stewards, as a member of The Coalition to Save Jackson, have staged over a year of actions protesting the cutting of large conifers, the destruction of tribal heritage sites, the use of substantial amounts of scarce water to keep down dust on logging roads, and the wholesale poisoning of oaks. Our demands are clear: 

  1. A moratorium on all timber harvest operations and planning in JDSF until a mediated public dialogue, honored by the Board of Forestry, can produce a new management plan. 
  2. An up-to-date Environmental Impact Report (EIR) with an unbiased acknowledgment of the relationship between deforestation and climate change (the current 2007 EIR has only 4 out of 900 pages discussing climate). 
  3. A demonstration of good faith in the ongoing Government to Government consultations between the Pomo Tribes and the State of California, consultations authorized by California Executive Order B-10-11

CAL FIRE staff and timber industry representatives with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo claim that the mandate for JDSF cannot be changed. This came from the 1949 legislation that founded the Demonstration Forest System. We must note that that year saw the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Medicine to the doctor who invented the lobotomy, and the

detonation of nuclear warheads in close proximity to innocent American soldiers to test the effects of radiation on human beings. Climate change—now a clear and present danger to our species’ survival on earth—was not even considered. It goes without saying that all legislation of the time should be reexamined expeditiously. 

CAL FIRE has made many statements showing that it considers itself above the will of the people, most notably at the August 3 Jackson Advisory Group Meeting, when they declared that they, as a state agency, are not subject to county laws—the law in question being Measure V, approved in 2016 by 62% of county voters. This law bans the leaving of standing, poisoned trees, but, had it been possible within the statewide legal framework, would have entirely banned the practice of ‘hack n’ squirt’–in which economically invaluable trees are hacked with an axe then injected with an herbicide and left to die. 

As Tomas Wheeler, JD, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center in Arcata, California, stated in his defense of the Trail Stewards, “The First Amendment abhors restrictions on speech. This is particularly true on government-owned land, like the Jackson Demonstration State Forest. As the Supreme Court has recognized ‘Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held… for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions. Such use… has, from ancient times, been a part of the privileges, immunities, rights, and liberties of citizens.’ Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 1963” In a democracy, the government should not be considered immune from public opinion, nor above the law. Email or call Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of Natural Resources. Tell him to have CAL FIRE stand down immediately and listen to the people they are supposed to serve.