Heavy equipment with logs stacked to the side in the Arcata Community Forest during tree cutting in August as part of the Forest Management Plan | Photo by Shawn Leon

Students shocked at Arcata Community Forest logging

COVID-19 hampered the communication of logging plans between the city of Arcata and new members of the community
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COVID-19 hampered the communication of logging plans between the city of Arcata and new members of the community

Lumberjacks with heavy equipment felled redwood trees in the Arcata Community Forest during the last two months, shocking some Humboldt State University students who regularly use the park. The City of Arcata uses timber harvest money to fund the management of the park and purchase additional park land in the area.

HSU senior Isaac West downhill bicycles the trails most days. He was disappointed when he came across the heavy equipment in the park near Fickle Hill Road, and a friend told him a section of the bicycle “jump trail” had been ruined.

“We have trees burning down everywhere,” West said. “It just seems like a really bad time to be cutting them down.”

Karlee Jackson, an HSU transfer student majoring in environmental studies, said many students she talked to hadn’t heard the tree cutting was happening, and were shocked by it.

“I am so mad they are cutting down these trees when so many trees have already been cut down,” Jackson said. “Why wasn’t it discussed with the community?”

Jackson acknowledged that COVID-19 may have made it more difficult to consult with the community, but said she would have liked the city to have found another way to engage the community before cutting.

Mark Andre, Arcata City director of environmental services and former HSU watershed management graduate student, said community engagement in the forest’s management was greatly impacted this year due to COVID-19.

“The biggest challenge to us is to explain to new people who are moving here,” Andre said. “During this COVID-19 year [community consultation] has not been as perfect as it could have been.”

Andre prepared the current Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan which allows some logging in local community forests. It was approved in 1999 and therefore public comment is not required each time the city wishes to cut, but the city is required to submit a Notice of Timber Operations (NTO). The city did issue a press release and convened the city Forest Management Committee, made up of appointed experts, although some regular meetings were canceled this year due to COVID-19.

The NTO includes an impact analysis on spotted owl populations, and the steepness of the grade to ensure the cuts do meet environmental regulations.

Greg King, executive director of the Siskiyou Land Conservancy and one of the first-ever Redwood tree-sitters, said he supports the efforts of Andre and the city.

“I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to most logging,” King said. “It almost surprises me to say I support this.”

King said he was far more concerned about the practices of logging companies owned by the billionaire family, Fisher, and Green Diamond Resource Company. Together these companies own roughly half of all redwoods in existence and regularly get “incidental take permits” which are essentially licenses to kill endangered species found while cutting.

“What you see is a lot of faux [or fake] sustainable logging, but that’s not what you see here,” King said.

He hasn’t read the forest management plan, but King encouraged students and community members to keep a close eye on the city. He is impressed at the “light touch” of the operations, and how the city has been able to purchase additional land in the area for conservation with the money from the park’s timber harvest. But King does believe public notice could be improved.

Andre said he has been working for the city since 1984 and since then the size of the forest has doubled. In the past decade about 30% less is cut annually compared to the 1980s. The city originally purchased the park and instituted the arrangement to use timber harvest money to purchase additional land for conservation after a city bond measure passed in 1979. Andre said since then the city has set standards in sustainable forestry and community based forestry even winning an award from the Forest Stewards Guild.

Regarding the recent destruction of a section of the downhill bike trail Andre said, “If we damaged the jump trails it’s going to be rebuilt this fall anyway.”

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