MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA, 8/23/22 — A Friday meeting of the Jackson Demonstration State Forest Advisory Group (JAG) was full of conversation, controversy, and big milestones as officials presented a new vision for the future of Mendocino County’s landmark redwood forest. Jackson is the largest of California’s nine demonstration forests and a longstanding logging site, as well as a forest with many recreation opportunities and cultural and archaeological relevance to multiple local tribal communities.
Keys to the plan, presented four years ahead of schedule, are tribal co-management and restoration ecology. “The climate is moving faster” than the usual 10-year timeline and “putting tribes in the lead” is a priority, according to Deputy Secretary for Forest and Wildland Resilience Jessica Morse. She works for the California Natural Resources Agency, a parent agency for Cal Fire (which oversees Jackson along with the Board of Forestry).
Morse presented the “innovative” tribal co-management vision to around 40 in attendance at last week’s meeting. The cohort included JAG members, Cal Fire employees, forestry staff, concerned residents, and activists, many of whom also joined in to tour a couple of past timber harvest sites that afternoon.
“It takes active management to be able to create that foundation so that those trees can make it for a millennia in the current and future climate conditions that we’re facing,” Morse said. “So with that foundation, what we’re really looking at is a couple steps that we’ve already taken to start getting us to a point where Jackson can be modeling this future of a forest that we need in California, and help us be prepared for future conditions that forests and forested communities are facing.”
Forest managers hope to update the 10-year management plan, which was set to expire in 2026, to focus on climate science, restoration ecologies and economies, and further exploration of “the multiple benefits of restoring redwood forests.” Cal Fire and CNRA leaders have devoted $10 million to support forest operations, in order to remove revenue-generating pressure to create new timber harvest plans (THPs), and plan to earmark an additional $10 million to support administrative costs to bring the new vision to reality.
The new management plan will also involve revising operations so that current timber plans focus on smaller trees, halting the removal of trees over 48 inches in diameter and permanently protecting specified trees to enhance future carbon sequestration.
Perhaps most critically, the CNRA also hopes to establish a Tribal Advisory Council to dedicate percentages of revenue generated from the forest for tribal priorities. Morse said the agency also hopes to establish agreements with individual tribes to ensure clear communication and sovereignty in forest activities moving forward.
“This could be an amazing opportunity to have Jackson be a new model that we can use throughout the rest of the state for tribal co-management,” Morse said.
Morse said these ideas came out of consultation with Reno Keoni Franklin, tribal chairman of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians and the holder of one of two new seats added to the JAG. The state has also been in conversation with the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians and the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians in developing tribal co-management plans.
State Forests Program Manager Kevin Conway told The Mendocino Voice that Cal Fire hopes to host the first public comment period regarding the new management plan as soon as this winter. He said his “optimistic” hope would be to submit a more finalized draft of the management plan in late 2023 or early 2024.
However, forest managers face criticism around current practices regarding input from tribes and the community at large on timber harvest and other controversies. A May letter to Conway and colleagues from Priscilla Hunter, tribal historic preservation officer of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, regarding proposed amendments to the Soda Gulch THP went unanswered. In a letter sent Aug. 18, members of the advocacy group Save Jackson Coalition — comprised of concerned citizens and the Mendocino Trail Stewards, The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo, The Environmental Information and Protection Center, Redwood Nation Earth First! and the Mama Tree Network — also called for more accessible meeting times (such as evenings or weekends) and more accessible meeting locations (currently meetings are held outdoors in various forest locations and without remote options). Staff took these suggestions under advisement at Friday’s meeting.
Some Save Jackson Coalition members in attendance were also skeptical about the feasibility of prioritizing climate resiliency and tribal co-management, should commercial logging still be an active part of Jackson activities. The Board of Forestry’s policy currently describes Jackson as “commercial timberland … managed by professional foresters who conduct programs in timber management, recreation, demonstration, and investigation in conformance with detailed management plans.”
“I love some of the things that you’re saying, but I’m very confused,” activist Anna Marie Stenberg said in response to Morse’s presentation. “It seems like the first thing that we need to be doing is changing the mandate for Jackson … . And I understand that you have to deal with the open THPs, but I didn’t hear you say anything about changing the mandate, and as long as it’s for commercial logging, I don’t see how any of this can happen.”
Morse argued that the mandate is not for commercial logging, saying, “testing out environmental regulations for commercial forests is different than being a commercial forest.” Amy Wynn, a JAG member, suggested that perhaps in the course of new plan development the JAG could advocate “refining and perfecting the mandate language,” which would be a legislative decision.
State Senator Mike McGuire, who has recently come out in favor of a new management plan for the forest, is optimistic about these “first steps of modernizing the Demonstration Forest model,” according to a news release.
“We couldn’t be more grateful to the Tribal leaders who have been front and center with the conversations, the community around Jackson Forest, Cal Fire, and the California Natural Resources Agency for all of the incredible time and effort they have put into this endeavor,” he said. “Obviously there is much more work ahead with the advancement of the master plan, but I believe this is an excellent start. Refocusing Jackson to be a place of research on the climate crisis and wildfire resiliency is crucial to so many of us on the North Coast and around the state.”
Sam Hodder, executive director of Save the Redwoods League, said his organization “is honored to join the Jackson Advisory Group.” Dr. Joanna Nelson, a statewide specialist on coastal redwoods with Save the Redwoods League, holds the other new seat on the JAG.
“The Jackson Demonstration Forest is a living laboratory that will help us answer critical questions about how best to restore California’s coastal redwood forests to be a source of resilience and carbon sequestration and biodiversity in an era of climate disruption,” Hodder said.
In the meantime, youth from the Save Jackson Coalition and Mendocino County Youth for Climate plan to rally in the forest in Caspar on Sunday.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.