This Year’s Timber Harvest Mostly From Forest’s Remote Corners – May 21, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

The two locations in the Arcata Community Forest where logging is planned. City of Arcata graphic

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – China and Belize featured prominently in discussion of Arcata’s forests at last Thursday morning’s Forest Management Committee (FMC) meeting. So did less exotic locales, including the bedraggled 80-acre tract of forestland known as the Forsyth property, located east of Humboldt State. It’s been aggressively logged over the years, not quite in keeping with the standards the City of Arcata follows with its sustainable management.

That parcel, now up for sale, is also heavily used by students and illegal campers. All things considered, it’s not on the City’s shopping list. “We’re not that eager for that property,” said Mark Andre, Environmental Services director.

Other forest properties with more habitat and Ridge Trail value are on the wish list, though. This week, City and state officials plus professors with Humboldt State’s Forestry Department will tour a 950-acre property in the upper Jacoby Creek watershed. While the City isn’t interested in it, Humboldt State is considering using it as a nearby research forest to augment forestry studies.

The City is seeking a $220,000 Community Forestry grant from the Dept. of Agriculture for acquisition of the last remaining link in the Arcata Ridge Trail, a five-acre parcel known as the Humphry Property located just north of Fickle Hill Road on the Ridge Trail.

Quality of life indicators

City departments are being asked by the Community Development dept. to supply “quality of life indicators” to help measure progress in their respective areas of interest.

Since they dwell in the minutia of forest management, FMC members discussed various arcane and technical metrics that might serve as indicators. Committeemember Lowell Diller suggested a big-picture goal that would be recognizable to the average user who doesn’t have a technical background.

“I think it ought to be focused on things people actually experience when they go out in the forest,” Diller said.

The committee decided that a “vibrant, healthy ecosystem” would be one goal, with supporting sub-goals including data derived from a Forest Stewardship Council audit, documenting improvements in water quality, tree volume and sustainability.

“The general well-being of citizens and the environment, that’s one of our key responsibilities,” noted Committeemember Danny Hagans.

Chair Russ Forsburg said that data on APD forest ranger presence would be helpful in ensuring continued funding for that position.

A second goal is the quality of the forest experience, with supporting details regarding public safety, miles of trails and acres of land protected.

The indicator of a healthy ecosystem is “not just for flora and fauna, but for human beings,” Forsburg noted.

This year’s harvest

Arcata harvests its forests on a stringently sustainable basis to fund projects and acquisitions which protect habitat from subdivision development. Never is more than a small fraction of the annual growth harvested, and multiple sensitive areas, such as riparian zones, are off-limits to logging. Areas to be logged are decided in excruciating detail at FMC meetings and during field trips, down to individual trees and how they may be removed without scuffing others. Arcata was the first to gain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for sustainable management.

All this ethical scrupulousness doesn’t help much, though, when citizens see loaded logging trucks chugging forth from the Community Forest, which many mistakenly assume is a no-cut tree preserve. In the past, outraged but inattentive citizens have held protests over “secret” harvests which had been well publicized in advance via newspaper stories, including maps of harvest areas, and public meetings.

Eco-conscious Humboldt State students have at times been particularly upset when on witnessing harvests. One, for example, demanded that the City gain approval for its forest management practices from Earth First! in advance of any harvest.

The City has been repeatedly frustrated by fresh waves of students unfamiliar with Arcata’s forest management practices, sometimes having to educate them individually when they show up at FMC meetings as to what went into the decisionmaking.

The harvest planned for this summer could inspire more complaints than usual, as part of it takes place at one of the main entrances to the forest – off Trail 9 near Fickle Hill Road. That’s the one Andre termed the “most dramatic unit.”

Thinned in 1981, it will be lightly logged or “tuned up,” as Andre puts it. Part of the tune-up will involve removing hazard trees on Fickle Hill Road.

Four other harvest areas are in the “back end” of the forest, and less noticeable. One is the recently acquired Schmidbauer property, where, as is usually the case with harvests, old legacy problems will be corrected. These include eroding old roads plus installation of culverts and bridges. Two others are small patches in the Jacoby Creek Forest.

About 500,000 board feet will be harvested, 200,000 of which is “left over” from last year’s planned take, as early rains ended logging operations. Andre said that at least 1.4 million board feet will grow this year in Arcata-held forestlands, and the City is allowed to take up to 800,000 board feet under its Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan.

Revenue from the harvests will depend on logging and other costs. The lumber market has been miserably depressed for years, discouraging extensive logging. Now, while “not tremendous,” according to Andre, it is recovering and should help fill the Forest Fund.

Bids for the logging will be opened this week. Arcata’s FSC cerification is attracting loggers who want to be associated with it. Mostly redwood and Douglas fir will be harvested, though one load of spruce will go to Arcata’s Almquist Lumber.

Andre said revenues will help develop the segment of Ridge Trail in the Community Forest’s north end. It will be graded, shaped and coated with rock for proper drainage.

Sister forest

City Councilmember Mark Wheetley briefed the FMC on a nascent proposal made by Ron Samuels of Marimba One to create a sister forest in Belize. Wheetley said the marimba maker has approached local conservation groups and the University of Belize about establishing one outside Punta Gorda.

Environmental laws in Belize are not as well developed as those in the U.S. and Arcata, and with the Chinese now purchasing whatever is available, no questions asked, environment-damaging logging is taking place.

Committeeemember Lowell Diller wonder what the incentive would be if the locals can simply “cut and run and sell to the Chinese.”

Wheetley said that only a few are profiting from the indiscriminate logging, and that the Chinese involvement is akin to rapacious logging that took place under British colonial rule in the 1950s. “Here we go in the next wave,” he said.

“The reefs are going away, the birds are going away – people are pissed off,” Hagans said. “We could bring a lot to the table. We’ve got lots of expertise here to maximize economic return and protect forest values.”

A lengthy, fact-finding field trip to the tropical paradise was suggested, a proposal readily embraced by Chair Forsburg. “We should take the whole team and spend a month down there to set it up.”

Andre said he has discussed the idea with HSU President Rollin Richmond to solicit the university’s possible involvement.

Marimba One declined comment on the sister forest idea for the time being.

Cannabis damage

It was noted that while Humboldt might have help to offer Belize, local forests are also suffering serious damage – from illegal cannabis plantations.

The committee had been asked to support Assemblymember Wes Chesbro’s legislation, AB 2284. The bill establishes additional fines and penalties for violations of the Fish and Game Code related to cultivating cannabis on public lands.

Committeemember Jack Naylor said that a steady procession of trucks can be seen on Highway 36, carrying soil amendments up into illegal cannabis plantations.

Forsburg was skeptical of involving Arcata, since it has nothing to do with community forestry. Andre said the bill doesn’t hinge on Arcata’s support.