Rekindling Timber Wars in the Mattole

A banner protesting Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) logging in the Mattole, April 29, 2014. Photo: QueRoule, Flickr CC.
A banner protesting Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) logging in the Mattole, April 29, 2014. Photo: QueRoule, Flickr CC.

When Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) bought Pacific Lumber (Palco)’s timberland, Humboldt County heaved a sigh of relief.  The company claimed to be committed to leaving the old growth standing and to reverse the pace of forest depletion of the former bankrupt owner.  In the Mattole, we thought that meant no entry in the old stands on Rainbow Ridge, the steep headwalls of the Upper and Lower North Forks, historic home to abundant salmon and plentiful cool water delivered into the estuary.

We discovered, however, that HRC values this landscape primarily in terms of how much they can remove and still be considered “green”—claiming the prestige of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) sustainable certification and the monetary rewards that come with it. The Lost Coast League, along with 100 other individuals and organizations, appealed HRC’s certification by challenging excessive use of herbicides and liquidation of forests valuable for endangered habitat, water quality, and carbon sequestration.  HRC was removing High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) before evaluating them for their role in maintaining a rich diversity of endemic rare and endangered species, like northern spotted owl, northern goshawk, golden eagle, Sonoma tree vole, Humboldt marten,
and many more.

The formal appeal was made to Scientific Certification Services (SCS), and an investigation took place in September 2018. SCS concluded that the complaint had merit and required HRC to establish a process for designating HCVF areas on their Mattole ownership. SCS also called out HRC for treating some 7,000+ acres with herbicides annually, requiring HRC to draft a plan to phase them out.

Treesitter Rook looks out over the forest. Photo: Instagram @blockade.babes.

SCS, according to FSC principles, is obliged to consult with affected communities in all phases of the process.  The Lost Coast League waited in anticipation for HRC to perform these tasks and to have the opportunity, in line with FSC Guidelines, to review and comment on these plans. However, HRC filed their herbicide plan without consulting with LCL and they began logging on Rainbow Ridge before completing a plan for HCVF designation. LCL was surprised and horrified when trees started falling.  A tree-sitter, Rook, established herself in an old tree, rekindling the timber wars.

Four older Mattole residents stood at the logging gates on Monument Road (Rio Dell) in early June and asked the fallers to not cut these trees.  HRC’s security handcuffed the septuagenarians and detained them for arrest by Humboldt County Sheriffs.  More incidents of civil disobedience followed and a second tree-sit began.  HRC’s security sent a climber into Rook’s tree and cut away their food, water and supplies. They alternately deprived Rook of food, played loud misogynistic music, trained lights on Rook at night, and then made Rook beg for food and water. These military tactics are designed to break down resistance and gain compliance with the torturer, but have not yet broken Rook.

A public outcry forced HRC to rescind their harsh tactics after protests by elected officials, religious leaders and community members.

Owls are a better judge of High Conservation Values than SCS’s investigators

When the harvest plan was filed in 2012, HRC claimed there were no spotted owls on site, however two owl habitations were discovered when they were on the verge of falling trees. The HRC forester filed routine “minor” amendments, promising to keep fallers away from a few acres around the owl and wait until after August to fall the rest of the mandated 1000’ radius protection zone.  CalFire just as routinely approved these changes.

The presence of spotted owls, which are plummeting toward extinction, was “substantial new information” which required a new review, complete with public and expert evaluation. It was also discovered that HRC had begun falling trees around the owl before CalFire had approved the plan’s amendment. This was brought to CalFire’s attention and it alarmed even them. They inspected the area the very next day.

But CalFire shrugged it off, saying the Palco-era Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) covered the owls, therefore HRC could fragment owl habitat.  The owl’s continued decline should, however, invalidate the HCP (which was a contract to maintain and increase the population).

In late July, after falling the trees on Long Ridge, HRC finally circulated an HCVF plan, allowing a scant two weeks for review. The plan essentially condemns the Rainbow Ridge forests, sparing only the riparian corridors (narrowed in some cases to 50 feet from the stream) to be conserved as HCVF. Lost Coast League has requested an extension for review, since HRC has all year to complete this plan, and also has hired expertise to give a thorough review of HRC’s conclusions—this process, however, will take more than two weeks.

The public is left with no assurance that sustainable certification has any meaning.  Home Depot customers are hoodwinked into believing that they are buying wood harvested without harming the forest homes of creatures in danger of extinction. Additionally, Humboldt County is losing one of the world’s highest carbon sequestering forests, contributing to planet-wide climate chaos.

Throughout it all, Rook, with two Sonoma tree voles as companions, witnesses this destruction, writing: “I sit up in my perch, listening to the thunder of trees falling—close—across the creek on Brushy Ridge. I think about a future without forests.  How long can it continue, how long until we create a climate unable to support healthy forests?”