River Views

by Malcolm Macdonald, April 5, 2012

The Macdonald ranch, totaling about 180 acres, is surrounded on the east, south and west by Mendocino Redwood Company timberland. Mendocino Redwood Co. owns close to a quarter million acres within Mendocino County. Its corporate companion, Humboldt Redwood Co. owns more than two hundred thousand acres of Humboldt County. It’s worth noting that six timber companies own two and a half million acres of California.

Last week amidst whipping winds, four workmen, employed either by MRC (Mendocino Redwood Company) or its logging contractor, spent most of one day flagging a timber harvest plan just to the west of the Macdonald ranch. By “just to the west” I mean right outside the yard: an area that includes a half mile of road down to the river constructed by our family in 1960; portions of a switchback road in existence since the 1860s; land once occupied by the first McKay School. From 1890 to 1912 my Macdonald grandparents housed the school teachers in a cottage they built and were among the school’s trustees. My father’s four oldest siblings attended classes there. This piece of land totaling a little over 20 acres was taken from our family by a court ruling in 2001. In 1999 family members couldn’t help but notice that MRC flagging for a proposed THP (timber harvest plan) included some of our fruit trees and a family dog cemetery (dating to the 1890s) as well as the roads and school area mentioned above. We probably could have purchased the disputed area for the amount spent in legal costs (into six figures – largely paid out by cashing savings bonds earned by hard working ancestors), but Macdonalds don’t really appreciate paying twice for a piece of land they’ve worked and lived on for well over a century.

Most readers can imagine the outcome of a court case when a family goes up against a corporation, even when the family has century old maps, eyewitness accounts, and internal memos from the timber company’s own files to back the family’s claim. Yes, Mendocino Redwood Co. possesses a large “vault” within its Ukiah office that includes file cabinet after file cabinet of materials concerning its neighboring property owners. Employees of MRC’s direct predecessor in interest, Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, clipped River Views columns from the newspaper during the late 1980s and early 1990s and placed them in the vault files, not every column, but many that referred to logging practices, even a column that mentioned a cousin and me digging narrow paths for toy trucks and wagons when we were children. I discovered the row after row of filing cabinets with the names of Mendocino County family farmers and ranchers affixed by label to the front of the cabinets quite by accident when MRC grudgingly allowed me to enter the vault to access the survey field notes of another predecessor in interest, Masonite Corporation.

A discovery motion in 2000 brought to light box upon box of files Mendocino Redwood Co. and its predecessors (Louisiana-Pacific Corp., the short-tenured Timber Realization Co., Masonite Corporation, and Southern Pacific Land Company – records kept by the lumber companies prior to 1910 were mostly lost to fire) had kept on just my father’s branch of the family. I saw cabinets in the MRC vault with the names of uncles and cousins on the front labels, but those are presumably separate files.

Next time in River Views: the connection between the MRC files and Jim Jones — not the Mendocino restaurateur, but the Jim Jones of Jonestown and Kool-Aid.

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