Forest Ecology Upheld in Humco

by Daniel Mintz, April 15, 2010

What’s the value of a forest?

Humboldt County’s Planning Commission explored the question at its April 8 meeting and etched the answer into a goal statement that emphasizes both the ecological and economic value of forests.

The Commission considered forestland parcel size, management and zoning issues as it continued to review the forestry chapter of the draft General Plan Update. A lengthy discussion on the goal of maintaining a “stable land base” for timber production was preceded by public comment that urged consideration of ecological values.

One of the most debated forestry issues is the degree to which residential development on Timber Production Zone (TPZ) lands should be restricted. The construction of one house on a TPZ parcel is allowed with the condition that it be related to logging operations.

But during public comment, SunGnome Madrone, who described himself as a logger and “the owner and steward of seven acres of carbon storage” in the Trinidad/Westhaven area, asked that incentives be created for land stewardship as well.

“It’s time that we start thinking about our forests as more than a resource for just cutting down to create something of value to society,” he told the Commission.

Jennifer Kalt of the Healthy Humboldt Coalition recommended that Humboldt County also recognize “active management of forest ecosystem values” as a condition of homebuilding.

And Kalt asked the Commission to consider environmental values in all of its policy decisions on the Update’s forestland chapter. “Healthy Humboldt supports the incorporation of language underscoring the importance of forestlands on the North Coast both in terms of the economy for timber production but also for environmental values,” she said, citing “clean water, carbon sequestration and fish and wildlife habitat” as attributes.

“We recommend the addition of forest ecosystem values throughout this chapter where timber production and economic benefits are mentioned,” she continued.

That recommendation drove a subsequent discussion on how to word a goal statement for preserving forestland. Alternative B, the Update’s compromise alternative, states that to maintain a stable land base, forestlands will be protected from “further fragmentation into parcel sizes that cannot economically sustain timber production as the primary use.”

Alternative D, the status quo alternative, more simply states that the county will strive to “enhance and increase county timber production capabilities.”

Some commissioners supported the latter statement, with Commission Chairman Jeffrey C. Smith arguing that the Alternative B statement doesn’t recognize that there are differing opinions on what minimum parcel size should be.

But Commissioner Ralph Faust said that the Alternative D version falls short. “If you look at the history of what has happened with timber production … I think that you find a history of people harvesting timber without paying any attention to the ecosystem values of the property,” he said. “If you’re going to talk with any seriousness about sustainability, including sustainability for the property owner, you have to focus on something other than ‘Let’s cut it all down and sell it’.”

Faust added that sustainability “doesn’t just work for those living creatures who cannot come to these meetings and testify, it also works for all of us.”

Commissioner Bruce Emad said economic value is related to the environmental well-being of a forest. And Commissioner Dennis Mayo said times and attitudes have changed.

He said the “cut it all down and sell it” approach “just doesn’t exist now and it’s just not going to be.” Mayo added that he agrees environmental values are important, but “if you can’t make money, I don’t think it works at all.”

The issue of forestland fragmentation and appropriate parcel size was recognized as a major issue and one that may split the Commission. The same issue divided the Commission when it reviewed the Update’s agricultural lands section.

But commissioners agreed that the term “ecosystem values” should be added to the land base goal statement. There will be more review of the forestland chapter’s content at the Commission’s April 15 meeting.

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