A Proposal to Create Jackson State Restoration Forest

The State of California has an opportunity to turn a 50,000-acre redwood forest into an ecological, recreational and educational treasure at no cost to taxpayers. What an incredible bargain for present and future inhabitants of California, the United States and the world. California and the United States governments are paying over $500 million dollars for the 2,000-acre Headlands redwood grove. Of course, the Headlands is a virgin, unlogged stand of redwoods. But by creating the Jackson State Restoration Forest, we will begin restoration of a public redwood forest of unparalleled size whose beauty and value will continually increase. Our children and grandchildren will thank us for our foresight.

The proposed Jackson State Restoration Forest is the existing Jackson Demonstration State Forest. Located in Mendocino County, Jackson Forest runs from near the coastline between Mendocino and Fort Bragg eastward almost to Highway 101, near Willits. Jackson State Forest has been in existence since the 1940’s. Although it has been logged to varying degrees in various parts, it still contains many beautiful stands of redwoods, some of which are over 100 years old.

Quick action is needed to change the status of Jackson State Forest, because although it is now publicly owned, the forest is being operated by the California Department of Forestry as a demonstration of commercial logging operations. The longer the delay in establishing the restoration forest, the greater the destruction of the intrinsic values of the forest and the longer will be the time required for restoration.

The benefits of allowing the forest to heal itself will come soon. Redwoods grow to awesome size quickly. Remarkably soon the forest canopy will become restored. Underbrush will be shaded out and the ground become carpeted with needles. Groves will develop to cathedral size, inspiring visitors with awe. Over time, the forest will become more and more beautiful, more and more valuable for solitude, species preservation, salmon spawning, ecological research, education, and recreation.

The California Department of Forestry, which under current law manages the Forest, has the policy of cutting each year as much timber as grows in the forest. Although this may sound like a preservation-oriented policy, it is no such thing. When the California Department of Forestry took over management of the forest in the late 1940s, magnificent virgin redwoods constituted the majority of the timber in the forest. By 1980, the California Department of Forestry had cut almost every old-growth tree in the forest. Current policy gives the highest priority to cutting the largest trees, many of which are over 100 years of age. Thus, although the volume of timber in the forest has remained constant, or perhaps even increased since the California Department of Forestry took over, the current forest is a shadow of its former self. And, it is getting worse year by year. Every year, more and more older trees are cut, lowering the age of the trees and making Jackson Forest look more and more like a tree plantation.

The case restoring rather than logging Jackson Forest is compelling:

bulletJackson State Forest is owned by the people of California. In this day and age, there can be no doubt that the vast majority of Californians would prefer to preserve and enhance the forest for its recreational, ecological, and natural values, rather than to continue to degrade it.
bulletJackson State Forest was acquired by the state at a time when there was considerable doubt that it could be managed successfully and profitably for long-term sustainable operation. A primary purpose of acquiring the Forest was to demonstrate that this could be done. At that time, there was no market for second-growth redwood. Today there is a thriving market for second-growth redwood. There is no need for the state to demonstrate that second-growth forests can be managed profitably.
bulletAt the time Jackson State Forest was acquired, Northern California had vast redwood forests, many of them in far more pristine condition than Jackson State Forest. Logging of Jackson State Forest did little damage to the overall redwood forest resources of California.

Today, the picture is vastly different. Almost all of the large commercial redwood holdings of Northern California have been logged almost to extinction. For example in Mendocino County, where Jackson State Forest is located, the average inventory of timber in large commercial holdings is only 7,000 board feet per acre, a small fraction of the 80,000 board feet contained in an unlogged acre of 100-120 year old redwoods. Although not up to the latter figure, Jackson State Forest contains four to five times the timber per acre as the commercial holdings, making it by far the best-preserved large redwood holding in Mendocino County.

In current circumstances, it makes no environmental or political sense to continue to degrade the exceptional resources of Jackson State Forest.
bulletBecause redwoods grow rapidly, many areas of Jackson State Restoration Forest will become magnificent and awesome within a surprisingly short time. Today within Jackson Forest are incredibly beautiful areas that were logged of their virgin trees one-hundred years ago and then again logged of thirty to forty percent of the second-growth trees in the 1950’s. Entering these sections of the forest, one feels like he or she is entering a mature, healthy forest. Of course, the forest does not contain the true ancient giants of a virgin forest, but a 100-year old redwood towers higher than a twelve story building, and a grove of such trees is fully capable of making us mortals feel humble in their presence.

Areas of Jackson State Forest such as the one described above are rapidly disappearing, but they still exist. Further, there are large sections of the Forest that have the potential to recover to magnificence in fifty years, within the lifetime of our children.
bulletA potential concern is the loss of jobs in the timber industry that would occur if Jackson State Forest were changed from a logging operation to a restoration forest. It is important to look in detail at the gains as well as losses in jobs and business that would occur. Gains would occur in many areas and could easily outweigh the losses.
bulletRestoring the forest will not end all cutting of trees in the forest. There are many areas overcrowded with young trees. Thinning of these trees would assist in the recovery of the forest. Thinning would continue to occur as groves moved toward maturity.
In keeping with the objectives of restoration, the cutting of trees would be done so as to minimize the effects on the forest. Such careful management of the forest would require significantly more labor per tree cut; so the loss in logging jobs would be less than the reduction in the cutting of trees
bulletStream restoration could become a major source of jobs. Parts of Noyo River and Big River watershed lie within Jackson Forest. A small addition of land would put all of the riparian areas of Caspar Creek watershed within Jackson State Forest, creating an exciting opportunity for restoration of an entire native coho-salmon stream.
bulletRecreation-related jobs would be created. There will be a tremendous demand for recreation opportunities within the forest. The exact nature of what will be provided will be part of the task of planning for the forest, but certainly there will be jobs in constructing recreation facilities and trails and in providing services within the forest to those who come for recreation.
bulletThe biggest increase in jobs will probably be outside of the forest. The increase will occur in the multitude of businesses that serve the needs of tourists: motels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, theaters, etc.
The need for a public, undisturbed redwood forest has increased enormously since the time that Jackson State Forest was acquired. In 1950, the population of California was 10 million. Today it is 30 million. Population has tripled in less than 50 years, and the desire of the population to have places for nourishing themselves with solitude and nature has increased more than proportionally. At the same time, the expanding population has spread out and consumed more and more of the open spaces formerly accessible to urban people.

Just as the recreational values of a large redwood forest have grown enormously since 1950, so has the need for establishing a ecological sanctuary for species dependent on late seral-stage redwoods. Whereas there was vast acreage of virgin redwoods in 1950, there remain in Sonoma County only two small stands in public hands. In the large commercial land holding, not only have almost all old-growth stands been cut, but so have all of the large second-growth stands. There does not now exist in Mendocino County or anywhere south, any large acreage of mature redwood forest.

As we look to the future, the ecological, recreational, and educational values of a restored redwood forest in Mendocino County will grow enormously. Population and development are rapidly pushing up from the Bay area into Sonoma County and beyond. There is no doubt that within another fifty years, Northern Sonoma County will be essentially one large urban area, and Cloverdale, Ukiah, and Willits will be significant cities. Meanwhile, the population of the Bay area will probably double, adding to the pressures for access to nature by the closer populations.

The State of California was a wise and far-sighted when it acquired Jackson State Forest from the Caspar Lumber Company for $1.5 million in 1947. It also made good sense at that time to demonstrate that the Forest could be profitably managed for the long term. But, the circumstances in which Jackson State Forest exists have changed enormously. What made sense then is completely out of touch with current realities. What makes sense now is to move quickly to establish the Jackson State Restoration Forest.