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The Little River Logging Fiasco

A couple of weeks back I went on a walk with some of the people who are opposed to the proposed logging plan on Mendocino County's Little River Airport property. I have mixed feelings about this timber harvest plan.

In my childhood many a chilly or frosty dawn from early November right up to Christmas Eve was spent riding in a pickup truck with my father to the Little River Airport. In those days there were no fences around the property. In the dawn fog or mist Dad idled the pickup near the east end of the runways and we cocked our heads to listen for aircraft. When the surrounding sky fell silent Dad accelerated across the runways and on to the clay covered land beyond where cypress and small fir trees abounded. My father had a contract with the county, as the representative of the Spartan 4-H Club, in which Christmas trees, material for wreaths and garlands, as well as other floral products were procured from the lands surrounding the airport. A fee was paid to Mendocino County and the subsequent profits from sales of the wreaths, trees, etc. were split 50/50 between my father and the 4-H Club. This business started before I was born and continued after I was grown. It was a nice money-maker for the local 4-H club, especially since the vast majority of skilled and semi-skilled labor came from my father with the assistance of his immediate family.

I've been through the Little River Airport brush and woods more times than just about anyone still living in this county. When a fence was put up around the airport about a decade ago, I have to say that I felt like someone locked out of their own place. On the other hand the Little River Airport property belongs to the citizens of Mendocino County as a whole. The problem: some of them are not as well versed about this particular locale nor about forestland in general.

Let it be known that there have been times in the woods I have patted trees affectionately and even talked to them. Generally these are older, larger redwoods. A certain respect is due any living thing that has endured for centuries. Herein lies the rub, literally. On that August walk south of the airport runways, just beyond where the huckleberry brush embeds in the clay and the soil begins to transition to something nearly suitable for redwood or fir, one of the hikers draped her arms around a relatively scraggly redwood that had a yellow line spray painted around it, signifying a tree marked for cutting. The redwood in question is less than two feet in diameter and considering the clay dirt it is rooted in it may never be much broader. The "hugged" redwood is relatively knot-laced near its base. Here's where I draw the line: gratuitous tree hugging! Give me a freakin' break!

In the section of timber we were led through, there was only one tree worth saving: a redwood approx. 40 inches in diameter at its base. This is where my respect for the forester in charge of the project, Roger Sternberg, dims. That one large tree is smack dab in the middle of a watercourse and lake protection zone (WLPZ). If you can't get enough merchantable board feet of redwood out of a project without marking the only tree resembling an old growth (it's actually a second growth) and the tree is in a WLPZ then maybe there's something wrong. Technically California's timber harvest rules permit a certain small amount of tree cutting within a WLPZ, but the spirit of the regulations is not being adhered to in this case.

Contradictions abound in the Little River Airport timber harvest plan controversy. Our county stands to make somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000 profit if the plan is executed this year. The same 57 acres hasn't been logged for seventeen years. That return for us taxpayers amounts to about a $5,000 per year. You can divide that by approximately 80,000 citizens, putting the net yield at 60-some cents annually for every man, woman and child in this county. Most local foresters estimate that next year's timber prices are likely to be higher than in 2014.

Most of those who want the timber harvest plan stopped are tromping in credibility quicksand themselves. There are folks like Linda Perkins and Bill Heil who do a tremendous amount of research about timber harvest plans in this area. They are more acquainted with the ins and outs of timber harvest plans than some/many/most registered professional foresters (RPFs); however, most of the people they have gathered to support shutting down this particular THP couldn't find their own way out of the very same woodlands they are seeking to protect. Those who are opposed to the Little River Airport THP are proposing that it be turned into something of a park. Well, hurray! But right down the road a few hundred feet from the Little River Airport rests Van Damme State Park, with some of the most underused hiking trails on the coast. I dare say more tourists use those state park trails than Mendocino Coast locals.

Bottom line: The County's THP ain't worth it, especially when it will also put money in the pockets of Mendocino Redwood Company (aka Mendocino Forest Products — it never ceases to amaze that many a money grubbing corporation has more aliases than the most notorious outlaw). That alone I guess is enough to come down on the side of folks like Linda Perkins and Bill Heil, but this is not a battle I would choose to fight.

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