A Letter by
co-founder of the Mattole Salmon Group
A LETTER IN SUPPORT OF RAINBOW RIDGE & THE LCL
BY DAVID SIMPSON
Lost Coast League Member
Co-Founder, Mattole Salmon Group
Co-Founder, Mattole Restoration Council
Dear Friends of the Lost Coast,
Remaining stands of the great Cascadian rain forest, stretch along the western edge of the Pacific Rim from Northern California to Alaska. Before the coming of modern technological society, they helped provide for the planet much of the services essential to its health--cleansing of air and water, sequestering its carbon, sustaining a chemical balance and the great variety of species that evolved there. The capacity of the great Northern forest to do this was rivaled only by the tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin. The forests of the Pacific Northwest were once - and to some degree still are - composed of the most massive trees on earth in both height and volume. But after a century and a half of intense logging and development, only vestiges of those forests and fragments of the once-interwoven ecosystems remain.
California's Forest Line
Recent US Drought Monitor maps show that the new level of extreme warming we’ve experienced in the past few years has to some degree been checked at the northwestern California forest line. Here, such forests that survive still sequester large amounts of carbon in standing live, dead or downed trees. These ancient forests and some of the newly emerged second growth serve to buffer temperatures and help sustain the flow of moisture-rich weather systems off the ocean and the generous rainfall at the heart of the region’s abundance. In a framework of sublime reciprocity, the big trees help capture precipitation both winter and summer which in turn provokes the abundant tree growth They also provide homes to the myriad of wild creatures that have co-evolved with the great trees and play crucial reciprocal roles in the health and well-being of the whole forest.
The hand of humankind on these forests over the past 150 years, though, has not yet been gentle. Logging continues though at a slower pace given the overall reduction of trees of significant size or value. From the point of view of climate change, the Cascadian forest functions in a sorely reduced capacity. It is now more important than ever, as the planet hovers on the brink of unprecedented disaster, that we make sure these forests remain standing and that we begin to help restore the shattered landscapes that civilization has left in its wake.
Near the westernmost tip of the continental United States, one of the two largest stands of ancient redwoods remaining on earth, (protected in the Rockefeller Forest and surrounding Humboldt Redwoods State Park) faces an uncertain future. Directly west of these groves and outside park boundaries, the steep slopes of Rainbow Ridge face the Pacific Ocean. These broad mountain slopes, forested in the draws with old-growth Douglas fir and hardwoods, complete a landscape connection from the Redwoods to the Sea, critical to maintaining a moist, temperate climate surrounding the Rockefeller Grove.
Forests of Pacific-slope old-growth Douglas fir, such as these, have become rare. Rainbow Ridge’s owner, the Humboldt Redwood Company, has approval from the State of California to log 1,100 acres, much of it previously unentered late successional forests in the Upper and Lower Forks of the Mattole River, immediately adjacent to Humboldt Redwoods.
The company's plans for Rainbow Ridge include logging right up to the borders of Humboldt Redwood State Park, with no provisions for buffers around this national treasure. Logging these ridgelines would could further devastate the wildlife communities still surviving in the adjacent Rockefeller family legacy grove: Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, pine marten, pacific fisher, northern spotted owl, red tree vole, and many others, the existence of some of which we aren’t yet aware, would be threatened.
Totem Salmon and Sediment
In the cold waters deep in the few undisturbed drainages of Rainbow, wild native populations of Cascadia’s most essential totemic species, coho, Chinook and steelhead salmon, still cling to life. Even under the most careful of regimes, the habitat of these increasingly endangered species, too, are vulnerable to further damage from new logging on the steep, unstable slopes of Rainbow Ridge. (Two of the five major tributaries of the Mattole and nearly a third of the entire river’s flow originate in the Rainbow water courses.)
The major threat to salmon comes from the tons of sediment that are unleashed from the hill slopes by large storms following upon disturbances from logging, overgrazing and careless road building. These sediments end up filling in deeper pools and smothering clean gravels the salmon need for successful spawning
Another distinction of the Rainbow ecosystem that makes these steep coastal slopes even more unstable is that they are located on the inland thrust of the “Mendocino Triple Junction,” one of the two or three most seismically active geologic junctions on earth. In April of 1992, three major ‘subduction’ tremors caused a dome of uplift along the beach at the mouth of the Mattole that raised the tidal zone and beach as much as much as four more feet above sea level and left many square miles of tide pool communities fatally above the high tide level.
Add to that geologic instability the often super-abundance of rainfall, this temperate rainforest regularly receives - as much as 211 inches of rainfall in a single season has been recorded - and one comes to understand how earth flows, debris torrents and landslides are regularly triggered and how widespread industrial logging has been so damaging to salmon. Unfortunately, there is no restoration plan in place for Rainbow that would treat already damaged hill-slopes and streams.
The rich, diverse forests of Rainbow Ridge have never been thoroughly surveyed for botanicals and fungi. We need to determine what species are present and how we can insure their continuity during what some climatologists expect to be a several-decades drought.
One species of special concern is the rare fungus Agarikon, or Fomitopsis officinalis, found exclusively in old-growth forests of Douglas fir, spruce, and hemlock, and abundant on Rainbow Ridge. Agarikon is not only a strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agent; its extracts have also demonstrated antiviral properties, giving it potential as a highly unusual bioshield against infection and disease transmission. It is already sought-after for use in fighting tuberculosis. As the medical values of Agarikon continue to be researched, this species could prove capable of combating viruses that are otherwise unstoppable. The cost to society of the loss of our ancient forests could be incalculable.
At a time when we urgently need to come to terms with the threat posed by climate change, these forests, with their ability to sequester vast amounts of carbon and maintain cool temperatures through the summer, present a significant opportunity to help stabilize the local climate. The forests north of San Francisco form the southern boundary of the great Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest. As drought dries up the south, this climate-stabilizing forest takes on added importance for the San Francisco Bay Area and the State.
The Lost Coast League and the Mattole Community
The Lost Coast League was created as a vehicle to help preserve the natural heritage of a region which includes the Mattole River watershed and the BLM King Range National Conservation Area (the Lost Coast). When the BLM purchased the Lost Coast properties north of Shelter Cove and south of Petrolia – including areas that had been heavily logged during the 60s and early 70s – the League participated with many others in our community and with the BLM to establish the King Range National Conservation Area, and then to achieve wilderness status through an Act of Congress. This 60,000+ acre preserve includes some of the most startlingly wild coastal lands in the entire north Pacific (BLM also owns a significant piece of forested land, much in old growth Douglas fir, on and around Gilham Butte in mid watershed. This land, too, had come to be protected and managed for wilderness value after a 20 year-long discussion between Mattole residents, BLM and Eel River Sawmills).
A grassroots group which includes many Mattole Valley residents, the LCL, has joined with other organizations and initiatives in the fight to protect the remnant ancient forests in the Mattole from unsustainable logging practices for decades, and fought to preserve the public trust values of water, wildlife, and landscape stability for future generations.
It is important to note the Mattole is home to the longest ongoing citizen-run watershed restoration program in the western United States. The Mattole Salmon Group, the Mattole Restoration Council and Sanctuary Forest International, formed in the early 1980s, have implemented a wide variety of projects aimed at restoring the once great salmon runs and the health and productivity of the entire watershed. Widespread erosion control, hillslope restoration and water conservation projects have begun to turn the tide that was rapidly leading to the extinction of our native salmon. In the process, the Mattole effort has become a technical and spiritual example for programs like it throughout the salmon regions of the Northwest
PL Forest Activism and a Monumental Opportunity
In 1985, after a bitter decades-long struggle much of which took place in the name of protecting ancient forests in and around Rainbow Ridge, The Pacific Lumber Company (PL), an old line conservative outfit that came as close as any to operating sustainably, was bought out by a corporate raider. Charles Hurwitz and the MAXXAM corporation, using the ‘junk’ bonds that were popular at the time with pirate outfits, took possession of most of the old growth redwoods still in private hands. They proceeded to liquidate the thousand plus year old trees under the shield of a legitimacy that should never have been accepted. It also kicked off almost 20 years of forest activism among idealistic young people who did not accept this myth of legitimacy . They were joined in these protests and often in civil disobedience by many citizen-residents of the Mattole.
MAXXAM lost control, finally, of the PL lands after a chapter 11 bankruptcy hearing in Texas in 2007-2008. Taking their place was Humboldt Redwoods Company (HRC), another flavor of operator, business and harvesting models of which were very different and less overtly damaging than those of Hurwitz and company. Still, after 20 years of MAXXAM’s high-grading, and taking much of the value to repay their bonds, HRC was left with difficult options. Much of what was left that could provide a modicum of profit was the old fir forests on Rainbow Ridge — a landscape beloved by environmental restoration people in our valley as well as by forest activists who still nurtured a sense of urgency about the need to protect remaining planetary resources. Several of the ‘young activists’ had become residents in good standing in the Mattole Valley.
Humboldt Redwood Company has three approved timber harvest plans in the Rainbow drainages. They have the right to begin harvesting when they please. After over 2 years of go-rounds and field trips with Mattole people into their holdings to try to arrive at a mutual vision, HRC has indicated that they are willing sellers of the 18,000 acre property they own on and around Rainbow Ridge for the right price. We are pursuing a policy of good-faith engagement with HRC and they with us. It would be good if we can come to the table with the support of organizations and individuals who share our vision for the best of our old growth forests and for the restoration of healthy ecosystems.
Co-Founder, Mattole Salmon Group
Co-Founder, Mattole Restoration Council
Human Nature Theater Company