Supes Praise Timber Company’s ‘Cautious Approach’

Reflecting the evolution of Humboldt County’s timber industry, county supervisors have praised the Humboldt Redwood Company for its management of 209,000 acres of forestland previously owned by the intensely controversial Maxxam corporation.

Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) took ownership of the Maxxam-owned Pacific Lumber Company holdings in a bankruptcy reorganization and began operations in 2008. That action ended the county’s timber wars, an era of aggressive Maxxam logging and community division over its impacts.

In the wake of those battles, HRC has emerged as a Forest Stewardship Council-certified company that has dramatically reduced harvest rates, adopted a no-harvest policy on remaining old growth and invested in road crossing upgrades and sediment reduction and removal.

John Andersen, HRC’s director of forest policy, updated the Board of Supervisors on the company’s operations at the board’s April 26 meeting. He said that HRC’s gaining control of the Humboldt timberlands has led to major changes in timber operations.

“We had a commitment from the beginning to reduce the harvest on the property,” Andersen said, explaining that before it went bankrupt, Pacific Lumber harvested 187 million board feet of timber per year.

Because HRC “saw that a lot of work needed to be done to get anywhere close to that harvest level,” the average annual rate was reduced to 53 million board feet per year, he continued, a 71 percent reduction.

“And we’re starting to see the fruits of those labors now — those clear-cuts are getting really fuzzy and hard to see from the highway,” said Andersen.

All 80 of the timber harvest plans “inherited” from Pacific Lumber were switched from clear-cut operations to single tree selection, he continued, and HRC addressed sediment, road-related erosion and other watershed protection issues.

Andersen added that the company’s restoration projects in the Lawrence Creek, Elk River and Bear River watersheds have boosted fish habitat.

The company has also made business-related investments. Andersen highlighted improvements to its Scotia mill and its marketing efforts.

He said $20 million has been invested on improving the sawmill’s efficiency and production flexibility. A cogeneration plant is now back in operation and the company’s operations encompass 250 jobs, he continued.

Andersen added that the company has also spent $15 million for marketing to “tell people how strong and how beautiful and how sustainable redwood is.”

Supervisor Estelle Fennell, who reported extensively on the timber wars when she was news director for KMUD radio, praised HRC for its work and its “cautious approach.”

But the company is not completely free of controversy. It’s filed a legal challenge against a state agency’s water quality actions related to its timber harvest plan in the Elk River watershed. Several environmental groups have joined forces to oppose the company’s litigation.

Commenting on the company’s approach, Anderson told supervisors that overall work reflects a commitment to environmental care.

“We have six agencies that watch us like a hawk when it comes to timber harvesting and our road work,” he said. Although he acknowledged that the Elk River watershed “still has its issues downstream,” Andersen said that sediment discharges from the company’s forests have been addressed.

“I challenge anyone to find a sediment spot, we’ve spent so much money in that watershed,” he continued.

Board Chair Mark Lovelace, who was a well-known environmental advocate before becoming supervisor, said that although some people have concerns, HRC has “managed to change the conversation around timber harvesting in Humboldt County and on the North Coast.”

Only one speaker addressed supervisors during a public comment period. Blue Lake resident Kent Sawatsky equated the lack of public commentary with lack of controversy.