.The Lumber Man In Charge of Climate Policy

Bay Area billionaire Robert Fisher profits by logging California's North Coast forests, even as Governor Jerry Brown has tapped him to help implement the state's anti-global warming agenda.

The world’s largest remaining contiguous stand of old-growth redwood forest resides in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Northern California. On the park’s northwestern flank, six people gathered last May to oppose a logging venture on adjacent private property. For four days, the activists shadowed the loggers and their supervising forester, as well as three Humboldt County sheriff’s deputies who were keeping a watchful eye on the forest defenders in case they edged over the park boundary.

The activists sought to obstruct the logging operation. But initially, the Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) loggers ignored them, toppling Douglas firs and madrone within thirty feet of where the protesters stood. The supervising forester dispassionately informed them that if any of them died, it would be ruled a suicide. Soon after, a tree crashed against the dead top of a smaller one, sending an errant wood chunk sailing perilously close to an activist’s head.

“There was a lot of bravado early on, but after a while, the loggers questioned what they were doing and stopped,” recalled the forest activist who goes by the name “Farmer,” and whose head was nearly hit by the airborne tree chunk. “They basically said they weren’t going to keep working under these conditions [with the protesters present].”

HRC crews soon turned to logging a far more remote 800-acre area of the same stretch of forestland, located in the rugged headwaters of the 72-mile-long Mattole River, which flows northwest through Mendocino and Humboldt counties. On their way to work on a late-June morning, loggers crossed over a high mountain pass — the sole access point to an area known as Long Ridge. They were met by an elaborate and fantastical blockade: Under the cover of darkness, activists had lashed together a jumble of logs, forming a wooden contraption reminiscent of a massive woodrat’s nest that splayed across the entire roadway.

The logs anchored ropes that were tied to a platform suspended in mid-air above the adjacent canyon. An activist was sitting on the platform, which was secured on the side of the canyon opposite the wood jumble by ropes wrapped to a tree that was clinging to a steep slope. Removing any part of the odd wooden structure would topple this perch. The loggers withdrew, and HRC has not cut in the forest since.

Direct actions that aim to escalate the cost of cutting talismanic forest stands have a long history on California’s North Coast. But efforts to protect the Mattole are notable, in part, because of who owns both the forest and the lumber company that has sought to fell it: the Fisher family of San Francisco. Best known as owners of The Gap and Banana Republic retail clothing empire, family matriarch Doris Fisher and her sons Robert, William, and John (who is also well-known in the East Bay as the majority owner of the Oakland A’s) are all billionaires. Their collective worth exceeds $9 billion. Within the Fishers’ 440,000 acres of forestland in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma counties, the family owns more coastal redwood forest than any private entity ever has.

While trees continue to fall in prodigious quantities in California’s North Coast and other regions of the state, environmentalists and anti-logging activists have curtailed some logging operations in recent decades by pointing out that forests provide important habitat to numerous species, many of them endangered, including the northern spotted owl. But in the past several years, conservation of these forests has gained new impetus as many scientists have begun to view them through an altogether different lens: as essential tools in the fight against climate change.

As the environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions have become devastatingly clear, ecologists have started to measure the ability of forests to absorb CO2 — a process known as sequestration. They have found, unsurprisingly, that the world’s largest trees — coast redwoods (sequoia semprvirens) — store the most carbon of any living thing on Earth. Douglas firs (pseudotsuga menziesii), such as those that grow in majestic stands in the Mattole watershed, also rate as among the world’s most effective trees when it comes to storing greenhouse gases.

While many environmentalists credit the Fishers’ businesses as being more environmentally sensitive than many of their timber industry counterparts, the family still profits by cutting down trees on an enormous scale, thereby diminishing the forests’ unique carbon storage capabilities. Given that the Fishers’ North Coast properties probably have as much carbon sequestration potential as any forest of equivalent size on the planet, the family is a potential lightning rod in the growing climate change movement.

That’s especially true given the fact that the eldest Fisher brother, Robert, also serves as co-chair of a little-known cabinet-level body in Sacramento called the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC). Enacted by the state legislature in 2008, the SGC is a cornerstone of Governor Jerry Brown’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The panel has the broad and unprecedented mandate of coordinating implementation of California’s climate change prescriptions across all levels of state government, while also preparing the state to accommodate a projected population of 50 million by the year 2050.

As such, Robert Fisher, whose close relationship with Brown is well-known within the corridors of the state Capitol, is not only in charge of helping set California climate change policy, but he also profits handsomely from harvesting living species that are increasingly being recognized as one of our last best hopes for forestalling the catastrophic impacts of global warming.

Until the latter part of the second millennium, giant redwood stands stretched from southwestern Oregon to Monterey Bay. Large groves of Douglas fir were also commonplace. All were a product of the region’s moderate temperatures and plentiful rainfall, and also helped produce our climate.

Before the advent of logging, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest housed an “unprecedented carbon budget,” according to Jerry Franklin, a University of Washington professor of ecosystem analysis who is known as “the father of old-growth research.” As Franklin explained at a conference sponsored by the Pacific Forest Trust in Arcata this past August, the conifer-dominated “Pacific temperate rainforest,” which runs from Prince William Sound in Alaska through the British Columbia Coast to California’s Central Coast, contains the largest mass of living and decaying material of any ecosystem in the world. Redwood forests, he noted, exceed the capacity of any on Earth to store carbon “by a factor of three or four.” The mixed Douglas fir and hardwood forests that grow adjacent to the redwoods, as well as the montane-mixed conifer ecosystems of the Cascades and Sierra mountain ranges, among other forests of the so-called “Pacific slopes,” also play a notable role in regulating atmospheric carbon.

“What we have is a region full of superlatives, with the redwood piled on the top of them,” Franklin said at the conference. “In the North Pacific coastal regions, which run from the Bay Area all the way up to the Gulf of Alaska, are numerous moist forests with an extraordinary capacity to sequester carbon, capable of making a real difference globally when it comes to climate change.”

When European Americans arrived on the West Coast in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they quickly sought to capitalize on the enormous forests stretching around them. The government seized lands from native peoples without compensation, converting them to private property through giveaways and auctions, often to fraudulent buyers. As the Bay Area expanded, loggers vacuumed old-growth trees out of the region’s forestlands, furnishing high-value timber to markets around the globe.

By the 1980s, large timber corporations, such as Maxxam and Louisiana Pacific, had initiated one of the most intense logging waves that California’s North Coast had ever known. But they were opposed by ecologists who had moved into the area during the previous twenty years and who believe fervently in a forest’s inherent right to exist, as well as by some loggers who recognized that their jobs were threatened by the liquidation of the large forests that still remained. In addition, scientists had developed new ways of measuring the forests’ societal and ecological worth. Professor Franklin’s research, for example, helped reveal the ecological importance of old-growth redwoods to numerous critters — including the spotted owl.

In the Eighties and Nineties, logging companies were met with various forms of resistance, including lawsuits and fantastical direct actions similar to the 2014 Mattole Forest blockade. By the late Nineties, protests in remote logging towns were attracting thousands of people rather than dozens, and the music at the protests was being performed by members of the Grateful Dead rather than by local dudes with guitars. Eventually, nearly all of the remaining old-growth redwoods — a mere 3 percent of California’s original total — were protected by parks and conservation easements. The other 97 percent, however, were collectively more degraded than they had ever been.

The timber industry has traditionally viewed forests in terms of “board feet,” the unit of measurement that represents a forest’s potential financial value in lumber. When the Fishers purchased Louisiana Pacific’s 232,500 acres of forestlands in Mendocino and Sonoma counties in 1998, the board foot volume of the heavily cut-over property averaged a paltry 10,000 per acre. By contrast, at the time of Euro American settlement, the board foot volume of the same forests averaged 125,000 to 150,000 per acre, according to estimates by biologists, with exceptional stands containing more than 1 million per acre (enough to build roughly fifty five-room houses).

Patrick Gonzalez, who is a National Park Service climate change scientist and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Forestry, is one of the world’s leading experts on carbon sequestration. He notes the importance of studying remaining old-growth forests to establish a benchmark for how much carbon the degraded lands could store in the future. “Published field research shows that old-growth coast redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park attain the highest carbon densities (tons of carbon per hectare) of any ecosystem in the world,” Gonzales wrote to me in an email, referring to the forest directly adjacent to the Mattole Forest (of which the Fisher family owns roughly 8,000 acres in total). “They achieve such high densities because they attain the tallest heights of any tree in the world.”

Gonzales is an advisor to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He also helped lead an effort sponsored by the California Air Resources Board to inventory the carbon in all of California’s ecosystems, and to estimate their changes over time, thus providing a scientific foundation for the role of forests in meeting the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the 2006 California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32).

The Fisher family’s fortune originated in real estate. In the Fifties and Sixties, family patriarch Donald Fisher bought and refurbished old hotels throughout California. His son John Fisher is currently the majority owner of the Fairmont Hotels of San Francisco and San Jose, and the family has numerous other real estate holdings. Reflecting the enormous financial success the family has enjoyed, UC Berkeley’s real estate institute, the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics, is endowed in their name.

The Fishers are also extremely influential and politically active, but their ties to the Brown administration, in particular, are evident in numerous ways. For example, Anne Gust Brown, the governor’s wife, served as general counsel, chief administrative officer, and executive vice president of The Gap during her fourteen years with the retailer. Her boss was Robert Fisher, The Gap’s former president and CEO.

One of Governor Brown’s main priorities last fall was the passage of Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion state water bond that voters approved in November. According to Secretary of State data, the biggest donor to Yes on Prop 1 was the Jerry Brown for Governor 2014 campaign, which gave just shy of $5.2 million. Collectively, the Fisher family was the campaign’s second biggest pool of financial support. They contributed more than $1.5 million, with Robert Fisher personally chipping in $400,000.

California has arguably taken stronger legislative steps to address climate change than any state in the union. AB 32 mandates that the state reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. California is also the first state to inaugurate a cap-and-trade program, which allows polluters to cancel out their emissions by buying carbon emission reductions somewhere else on a commodities exchange. A portion of those credits, or offsets, comes from carbon sequestration in forests.

But according to many environmentalists, the cap-and-trade program is fraught with problems, some of the most glaring of which are its provisions concerning forests. For example, cap and trade currently allows timber operators to generate carbon credits even when they clear-cut a forest, so long as the cut is no larger than forty acres.

Meanwhile, Brown has used revenues from the cap-and-trade program as a key funding source for his favored projects, one of which is the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) — financed by $130 million in annual cap-and-trade revenue. Sacramento State University political science instructor Peter Detwiler, who worked in the first Brown administration’s Office of Planning and Budget (under which the SGC is now housed), noted in an interview that the SGC is distinct from what he called “picket-fence politics” — the tendency for state agencies to be divided by functions, such that they rarely collaborate with one another to pursue larger policy objectives.

The SGC, by contrast, coordinates among all the state’s major agencies. The Sacramento politics journal Capitol Weekly noted in October 2014 that the “SGC reflects Brown’s vision as much as any entity in government.”

On the SGC, Robert Fisher sits alongside secretaries from California’s primary state agencies, including the California Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency. Fisher was originally appointed to the SGC by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, but then was reappointed by Brown in 2013. SGC Executive Director Michael McCoy, a former UC Davis professor of urban planning who carries out the day-to-day work of the council, said in an interview that Fisher’s contributions “have been nothing short of fantastic. He’s brought great insight into so many areas of our work, such as our efforts to promote greater infill development in cities. And he brings an outsider’s perspective that, frankly, nobody who’s been working inside of government for a very long time can offer.”

In the coming years, carbon sequestration will become a larger focus of California climate change policy. In 2016, the California Natural Resources Agency is set to unveil its “Forest Carbon Plan,” which will set clearer proposals for storing carbon in trees — a plan likely to be profoundly shaped by the timber industry. McCoy said the SGC will be “coordinating more closely” with state agencies to promote carbon sequestration by that point.

However, according to the best available information, existing state policy has not led to more carbon storage in forests. A California Air Resources Board study led by UC Berkeley Forestry Professor John Battles and released last year shows that the amount of carbon sequestered on California’s forests and other ecosystems declined by nearly 4 percent from 2001 to 2008.

When the Fishers started gobbling up the North Coast’s timberlands in 1998, many onlookers were mystified. At the time, the trendline for timber real estate was aiming in a single direction: down. The Timber Wars between loggers and environmentalists were still roiling. And the Fishers were already being stung by a wave of bad publicity regarding The Gap’s use of sweatshop labor, which made them a target of burgeoning campaigns against corporate globalization.

At first, many anti-logging activists mounted opposition to the Fisher family’s actions. But by the early part of the last decade, the vast majority of picture-postcard old-growth groves were already gone or protected, so the effort to preserve forests soon faded from broader consciousness. “It’s hard to rally people around a slogan like ‘Save the Second-Growth!'” said longtime environmental activist Karen Pickett of Berkeley, who is coordinator of the group Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters. “And some people latched onto the good-sounding PR, which is what The Gap specializes in. People wanted to believe the Fishers would do better, but, in fact, the profit motive drove their business model.”

The main shepherd of the Fishers’ timber investment was Robert Fisher’s brother, John Fisher, majority owner of the A’s. (As an October 2014 article in Mendocino County’s iconoclastic Anderson Valley Advertiser newspaper put it: “If a tree falls on the Mendocino Coast, will the Oakland A’s be able to afford a high-priced free agent?”) Sandy Dean, a Fisher-family friend and partner of John Fisher in the family’s investment arm, Sansome Partners, is chairman of both HRC and the Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), which are virtually identical companies that encompass the Fishers’ timber holdings in each county. The companies’ chief forester is perhaps the industry’s most renowned expert on running a profitable logging operation without relying on large-scale clear-cutting: Mike Jani, who is also the president of MRC/HRC.

“From the beginning, we committed to demonstrating that it is possible to manage productive timberlands with a high standard of stewardship,” Jani said in an interview. In referring to the companies’ logging practices, he cited a reduced harvest rate, elimination of traditional clear-cutting, preservation of old-growth trees, and investment in road improvements to reduce erosion into streams, which despoils fish habitat. In an email, Dean wrote that the companies have “improved the forest management policies on our lands in material ways,” and then cited a similar list of improvements.

Indeed, MRC/HRC executives have skillfully crafted a reputation of the companies being a sustainable logging operation. The companies’ products are touted by Home Depot in television ads throughout the Bay Area as “certified sustainable Mendocino Redwood Company lumber.” This marketing campaign rests largely on the imprimatur of the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which evaluates and certifies timber operators from California to the Congo as responsible forest stewards based on a series of standards for managing and harvesting land. The FSC grants its logo to forests in eighty countries on five continents, including to MRC/HRC. Jani was an FSC director for six years while simultaneously serving as MRC/HRC’s chief forester.

FSC certification is based on exceeding the requirements of state regulations to maintain certain areas of forest based on their value to the environment. According to figures in MRC’s Habitat Conservation Plan filed with regulatory agencies, by 2045, the company intends to increase the board-foot volume level in its forests from 10,000 to 20,000 per acre, the latter of which equates to the volume of a young second- or third-growth redwood or fir forest. Company reps highlight the timber volume increase, as well as a policy that prohibits cutting of old-growth forests, as an example of how it goes beyond state requirements.

But critics of the company say it gains more in image than it loses in revenue through its limits on cutting old growth. The company’s policy protects unharvested old growth stands, as well as old-growth trees in previously harvested stands. It also protects individual old-growth trees (hardwoods and conifers). It defines old-growth by girth (36-inch diameter for a Doug fir, for instance), age (established before 1800), and other structural characteristics. But based on these definitions, only 105 acres of MRC lands are currently off-limits to logging (just 0.046 percent of the Fishers’ total holdings in the county).

Moreover, MRC’s pledge to double timber volume from 10,000 board feet per acre during nearly half a century is unimpressive when considering that timber volumes on these lands were at an all-time low when the company purchased them. If the company were truly interested in restoring forests, it would at least leave the remainder of its healthiest forests intact rather than cutting them, critics say. Instead, MRC has dramatically reduced timber volumes in the areas of Mendocino and Humboldt Counties in which its forests are in the best shape.

One of these areas surrounds the small coastal town of Albion. Nobody in Mendocino County has conducted more in-depth reviews of logging plans than Albion resident Linda Perkins, who chairs the Albion River Watershed Protection Association. When MRC purchased 15,000 acres in the watershed, the land averaged 26,000 board feet per acre. The company is reducing that total to 18,000 per acre, as part of a goal of evening out forest sizes across its properties. “MRC claims credit for the high timber volumes [in the Albion], but they’re continuing to take the forest down,” Perkins noted. “Their goal is to make the forest more homogeneous. When you do that, and you don’t have much timber, you have to take the big trees.”

According to numerous sources, Jani frequently lobbies regulatory agencies and legislators to prevent restrictions on the company’s ability to harvest timber. Recently, he has strongly opposed a proposal by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to reduce tree felling on the company’s properties in the Elk River watershed of Humboldt County. The proposal was designed to prevent flash-flooding in the region. Flooding is a legacy of over-logging, which has reduced the soil’s ability to retain moisture and has destroyed numerous properties in the area.

In 2006, the California State Legislature considered a bill called the Heritage Tree Preservation Act, which would have outlawed the cutting of any “heritage tree,” a category based on a tree’s type, size, and age. For example, the legislation would have prohibited cutting any tree older than 150 years. Representatives of Mendocino Redwood Company were among those who opposed the bill in Sacramento.

“Since they were in FSC, they argued they had taken care of any considerations about old-growth preservation,” said Dan Hamburg in a 2012 interview with me, referring to MRC/HRC officials. Hamburg is a current Mendocino County supervisor and former US Congressmember who lobbied for the Heritage Tree Preservation Act. “They were doing it on their own, so the bill wasn’t necessary — that was the argument.”

The biggest flashpoint for renewed criticism of the Fishers’ logging plans, however, is HRC’s proposal for the Mattole Forest. The Mattole River, one of the country’s few remaining undammed major rivers, meets the Pacific Ocean at the westernmost point of the continental United States, in the small town of Petrolia, located along the largest swath of undeveloped coastline in the nation. The town records an average annual rainfall of more than 100 inches. Everything about the place is unique, including the HRC logging plan for the area. It calls for establishing the largest late-successional (a term for nearly-old-growth) timber harvest in Humboldt County in at least sixteen years. HRC is also attempting to log areas that include steep slopes, which the notorious cut-and-run corporation Maxxam had failed to reach — a fact that is deeply painful for residents who fought off those plans in the late Nineties and early Aughts.

Because of the activists’ blockade last year, HRC management has put its plans for the Mattole on hold for the time being. Company reps have even been talking with environmental groups about altering some aspects of the plan. According to Jani, however, the company is unlikely to change its original plans significantly, because that would mean re-filing the proposal with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In the past year, MRC also raised alarms among many environmentalists when it released logging plans far larger in scope than it had in the past. The company submitted several timber-harvest plans that ranged from 700 to 1,450 acres. Jani said, however, that despite the big plans, “the harvesting methods we made commitments to follow right from the beginning haven’t changed at all.”

In November, Jani and other MRC/HRC foresters led local residents on a tour of one of these logging plans, in Albion, where the Fishers plan to remove roughly 45 percent of the timber across 758 acres during the next two years. The interactions between company leadership and locals spoke volumes about the gap between California policies designed to reduce carbon emissions and the way residents struggle to protect land near their homes.

Albion volunteer Fire Chief Ted Williams, who makes a living writing software for Intel, is by no means a radical. As the father of a young child, however, he is concerned about climate change, and particularly the increased wildfire it portends for his family’s rural homebase. By removing the forest canopy provided by older trees and thereby generating lots of young tree growth, timber harvests like the one in Albion create drier conditions in forests, and thus a greater likelihood of catastrophic wildfires. The company’s practice of spraying roughly 4,000 pounds a year of the herbicide Imazapyr, targeting tan oak trees, which are not as marketable as redwoods and firs, likely also increases the fire danger, if only by leaving swaths of standing dead trees.

Climate change forecasters also predict an increase in dry-lightning strikes. A series of 2008 lightning-caused fires in Mendocino County burned a total of 54,817 acres, of which an astounding 23,196 (42 percent) were on MRC land, according to information from MRC foresters.

According to a video made of MRC’s tour with local residents, when Williams told MRC Vice President Dennis Thibeault that “you should not cut 758 acres,” Thibeault responded by saying, “Unfortunately, as a company, we’re still here. What you’re asking us to do is go away. That’s not a solution for us.” In the same conversation, Thibeault said, “It is a little bit of a stretch to say we have a precarious climate right now. Just two years ago — how much rain did we get? Three years ago, we filled every reservoir in California — in one winter.” When I attempted to reach Robert Fisher or one of his representatives for comment on the apparent conflict between profiting from logging and helping lead the state’s climate policy, I received an email from MRC/HRC Chairman Dean. “Our forest businesses, of which Bob Fisher is an investor, have worked to be good stewards of the land and also to be a successful business.” He continued, “We have worked hard to balance improving the ecological health of our forest and operating as a successful business, and these goals to us are consistent with the broader mission of the Strategic Growth Council.”

Governor Brown’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

As with MRC/HRC, environmental organizations often point out that the Forest Stewardship Council is better than existing alternatives. Representatives of Greenpeace International, the Sierra Club, and the World Wildlife Fund participate in the FSC’s governance, although the timber industry itself has far more influence within the organization’s power structure. Of late, Greenpeace has been increasingly critical of FSC decisions to certify companies that carry out large-scale deforestation and clear-cutting. The FSC is only a standard-setting organization, though, meaning its personnel do not actually conduct the certification reviews — rather, it farms out that function to other organizations.

The company that certifies HRC on the FSC’s behalf is Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), or SCS Global Services, which operates from an office complex at 2000 Powell Street in Emeryville. In 2013, SCS Global Services received stinging criticism for granting FSC certification to Green Diamond Resources Company, a timber firm that is nearly as large as MRC/HRC and owns about 400,000 acres of California forestland. Green Diamond relies heavily on so-called “even-aged management,” an industry euphemism that refers to clear-cutting.

SCS Global Services President Robert J. Hrubes wrote a seven-page letter entitled “Even-Aged Management, Forest Stewardship Council, and Green Diamond Resources Company” in 2013 that surprised many environmentalists for its frankness. Hrubes defended his company’s FSC certification by noting that there is nothing unusual about FSC approval of a corporation that conducts large-scale clear-cuts. There are, he noted, already “many millions of hectares of FSC-certified forestland around the world (likely more than half of the total FSC-certified land area) on which even-aged management (and ‘clear cutting’) is employed, both in operations classed as plantation forest management and operations classed as natural forest management.”

In explaining the fundamental problem of the Fishers’ management of such an enormous amount of forest, activists and loggers alike often say things such as, “The Fishers are running a business up here, not a charity.” So, too, is MRC/HRC’s sustainability certifier, the Forest Stewardship Council, a business that focuses on marketing its brand. Richard Donovan, a founding FSC member and senior vice president of the Rainforest Alliance, notes in an essay on the FSC website that the organization’s function is “to drive market demand.”

“FSC International must become a top-notch business — the FSC system is a market-oriented mechanism,” he writes, “and it needs a professional staff focused on operating at a business level.”

Among other things, environmentalists have criticized the FSC for not requiring that the companies it certifies account for climate change. “There’s nothing in our standards that officially accounts for climate change,” FSC Communications Director Brad Kahn acknowledged to me. “At this point, our perspective is that good forest management is the foundation for any robust forest carbon credits.” Likewise, MRC/HRC does not yet have any policies that account for its forests’ link to global warming.

Various efforts to do better than either the FSC or the Fisher family’s logging operations have emerged in recent years, including the nonprofit Redwood Forest Foundation, which manages 50,000 acres on the Mendocino Coast, a little south of the Mattole. Some argue that the fundamental issue is the existence of timber barons such as the Fishers — outside entities that dominate the region’s private lands from afar.

While the efforts to save “late seral” forests or restore second-growth are not as glamorous as the campaigns to protect remaining old-growth that came to a head twenty years ago, activists say current forest protection campaigns — especially when considering the impacts of climate change — are at least as important as those that occurred before. Longtime Mattole resident Gabrielle Ward has worked to protect her area’s forest since the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, she said, California policy has come nowhere close to catching up with the imperative to restore forests.

“The Mattole Douglas-fir forest is exceptionally rare and deserves to be protected in its own right,” she said. “And this forest type may have the ability to sequester more carbon than any other on earth besides redwood. We have a tremendous capacity to capture carbon, not only by retaining the forests we’ve got, but by helping the ones that have been cut over to recover.”


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