Kyle Curtis

The North Coast deserves a thriving economy that celebrates our magnificent natural resources, rewards innovation and supports communities with family-wage jobs.

Despite incessant calls for greater diversity in our economy, no business sector has stepped up to drive an economic revival. Ecotourism has yet to be a significant economic factor in our economy.

Perhaps Arbor Day/Week March 7-17, with its focus on conservation and planting trees, will shift attention to an often overlooked path toward economic stability.

Conservation is the key. It leads to sustainability and the wise use of resources.

Conservation is also vastly different from preservation.

For decades, efforts to preserve North Coast forests have reduced

active forest management, made forests increasingly off-limits and

brought the forestry industry to its knees. From 1988 to 2008 harvest

levels on public forests in the state plummeted 95 percent percent,

hundreds of jobs have been lost, and 40 percent of the California's

sawmills have closed since 2000. North Coast unemployment now hovers

near 12 percent with few predictions for imminent improvement.

Preservation ignores the fact that it is literally impossible to

preserve dynamic forest ecosystems in a static state. It fails to

consider that people have been a natural part of forested landscapes

for thousands of years or that we have a responsibility to manage

natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations.

Whereas preservation makes us passive observers of change,

conservation lets land managers take an active hand in our forests'


California's North Coast has emerged as a hot spot for sustainable

forestry. More has been done to advance science and technology in the

woods in our own backyard than perhaps any region of the world. More

spotted owls live on California's actively managed private forest lands

than on public forest lands left to nature. Our area has invested more

money in watershed restoration and salmon research on actively managed

private forest and ranch lands than anywhere else.

Imagine if local forestry were actually supported. Maybe California

wouldn't import 75 percent of its lumber. We could sequester more

carbon in healthy forests and tap tremendous potential to produce

bio-energy and replace fossil fuels. We could enhance biodiversity and

put communities back to work taking care of the forests that have

sustained North Coast livelihoods for generations.

But instead, preservationist policies restrict forest management and

limit investment opportunities. Tax incentives pay twice the dividend

for renewable wind and solar energy than they do for renewable biomass

energy. Regulatory costs to forestry companies and taxpayers alike have

skyrocketed even though the harvest levels have dropped dramatically.

We're all for diversifying the local economy. But encouraging an

existing, job-producing, sustainable business sector is more cost

effective than trying to lure new ones that may or may not bring the

family-wage jobs forestry provides.

The forestry companies that have survived perform to the highest

environmental standards in the nation. While research shows that

California law sets among the most stringent regulations anywhere, most

North Coast forest landowners have taken the additional step of being

certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable

Forestry Initiative.

The "locally grown" movement has inspired people to rethink their

food consumption habits and support local food producers. It should

cause us to rethink forests, too. As Dr. Keith Gilless, UC-Berkeley

dean of the College of Natural Resources notes "the arguments to

promote local food are no more or less valid when considering one's

consumption of forest products."

It's time to choose conservation over preservation, to actively

shape our forests and rebuild our economy by supporting working forest

landscapes that provide perpetual employment opportunities.

Support locally grown. North Coast forests just might drive an economic recovery.

Lisa Perry is a Westhaven resident and chairwoman of the North Coast

Chapter of California Women in Timber. She can be contacted at