Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Green Diamond talks tree retention; critics lament use of clear-cutting

Environmental organizations, tree-sitting activists and college students are hard groups to please if you're a logging company.

Last week, more than 200 people attended the first of what Green Diamond Resource Company says will be annual public meetings as part of the company's effort to solicit more community input.

The meeting came on the heels of Green Diamond's receipt of certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable logging. Changes to Green Diamond's forest practices were required for FSC certification, including more public input, protection for all old-growth stands on Green Diamond property in California, stopping use of certain chemicals and a higher green tree retention rate. Green Diamond is moving toward retaining 27 percent of trees across its holdings.

"That's pretty substantial. That's one out of every four trees," said Gary Rynearson, Green Diamond's forest policy and communications manager. "And every unit will have at least 10 percent retention. That standard doesn't exist anywhere in the forest standard practice rules."

All changes to forest practices have been implemented retroactively into all active timber harvest plans on Green Diamond's nearly 400,000 acres in Del Norte and Humboldt counties, Rynearson said. But despite recent changes, public comment focused on the desire for more change.

Comments ranged from far-fetched suggestions (harvest logs with horses instead of heavy equipment) to passionate pleas for Green Diamond to abandon clear-cutting.

"One of the main issues we want to address is your perpetual commitment to even-aged management, or clear-cutting," said Gary Hughes, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, adding that the temperate rainforest of redwoods needs protection amid climate change. "When will you hear what the community and scientific world is saying about clear-cutting and make that move ahead of time... away from this clearly climate-destroying paradigm?"

Neal Ewald, vice president and general manager for Green Diamond's California operations, said that it's a matter of different views, and Green Diamond staff believes that the skid trails and tractors necessary for selection logging, a clear-cutting alternative, are more damaging than the shovel and cable yarding now used with even-aged management.

"Shovel logging techniques use equipment that rides on the ground surface without the need to build skid trails and expose bare soil.The fewer skid trails you have, the less impact there is from erosion," said Rynearson in a post-meeting email. Even-aged management also requires less entries into an area, twice in 60 years compared to four to six harvests in 60 years, Rynearson said.

Andrew Orahoske, conservation director for EPIC, lamented that FSC certification was granted to Green Diamond's practices of even-aged management.

"We intend to file an official complaint with FSC, because we really do not think this a legitimate certification," Orahoske said during public comment.

27 percent tree retention

To reach the 27 percent retention rate, Green Diamond has identified certain areas as "High Conservation Value Forest Areas," where harvest will be extremely limited.

This includes 102,100 acres of riparian zones, northern spotted owl core areas, old-growth stands and marbled murrelet habitat, grassland, certain oak stands, and the Rattlesnake Ridge area, which is an entire dome of serpentine soils that promotes a unique habitat of chaparral brush.

As part of the FSC certification, Green Diamond will also evaluate every hardwood tree over 18 inches and conifer over 30 inches for its benefits to wildlife.

"Trees with features such as cavities, large limbs, and broken tops are retained," Rynearson said in the email.

The retention of such trees, called legacy trees, has already proved to benefit endangered species like the northern spotted owl.

Lowell Diller, Green Diamond's senior biologist, detailed the return of spotted owls to nest in trees left uncut in areas that had been harvested, less than 20 years before.

"I didn't think I would actually work long enough for the company to see this return of spotted owls to third-growth forest, but we're now witnessing that and that's probably the single most exciting thing in my professional life," Diller said.

Diller detailed the nearly 2,000 spotted owls that have been banded by Green Diamond staff and more than 6,000 re-sightings of banded owls.

"That's the single largest data set on spotted owls in existence, so we're pretty proud that we have that," Diller said.

Orahoske said the state of the owl is not that good.

The number of spotting owl nesting sites is half what it was in 1992, when a Habitat Conservation Plan was implemented, Orahoske said.

The premise of the HCP was to replace spotted owl habitat as it was cut down and "that fundamental premise has failed by at least 50 percent. You have not replaced owl sites as you thought you would," Orahoske said. "It's time now to revise the owl plan and to really have a trajectory toward recovery."

Easements planned

Green Diamond's Ewald also announced intentions to protect Strawberry Rock, an almost 900-foot-tall mountain pillar in Trinidad that provides sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and redwood forests. Environmental activists have staged tree-sits to protest Green Diamond's plans to harvest redwoods around the rock.

"It's our intention to find a way to get a conservation easement for three things: for the trail to the rock for public access, for the rock itself, and for the stand of trees, about 27 acres in size, that the trail straddles," Ewald said.

But 27 acres were not enough for many attendees who asked that the entire timber harvest plan for the Strawberry Rock area be scrapped.

Community members also asked Green Diamond for full protection in the 7,600-acre McKay Tract south of Eureka, which Green Diamond staff called the most productive redwood land in its ownership. Green Diamond has already proposed plans for a public-private partnership in the McKay Tract that would turn 1,200 acres into a community forest and create a conservation easement for an additional 700 acres. The remaining acreage would continue to be managed for logging but another conversation easement would prohibit development.

Open-mic night

Serious questions for the panel of Green Diamond scientists on hand were limited by impassioned showmanship on the part of some participants during the public comment period, including a full-length folk song dedicated to saving redwoods around Strawberry Rock.

"This is an emotional thing," Ewald said about the public comments. "Our business is done in the outdoors where everybody can see it. Everybody has a view and an opinion and everybody feels a kinship to the forest. We're going to change our business in the future -we've been changing it every year since I've been involved.And if we try to do it in context of the community than I think we can all benefit.We're not going to make everybody happy - no one can do that. But we can try to listen."

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