At dawn this morning a small platform with a tree sitter perched atop it could be spotted 65 feet up in the tall redwood tree affectionately known to locals as the Mamma Tree. Located in the heart of Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF), the Mamma Tree is at the center of a familiar yet passionate controversy not only to Mendocino County residents but also to State, National and even global interests: to cut or not to cut down big old trees. Are such trees more important to keep standing for their carbon sequestration, cultural, environmental and recreational values or for business and profit, to be converted into redwood decking and fancy houses?
With logging imminent and no legal recourse yet in sight, a tree sitter calling himself Greasy Pete climbed up, commenting: “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees”. A long banner suspended from the platform hanging down the tree trunk reads: “Save and Protect Jackson State, the Forest of the People”, also bearing the message: “If a tree falls in the forest we, the Concerned Citizens, are here and we would hear it!”
Standing at 77” dbh (diameter at breast height) just off a well used trail, Mamma Tree is marked for cut, a blue line spray painted around her approximately 240” circumference. According to Calfire, the managing agency for THPs including in JDSF, coring shows the Mama Tree is just under 200 years old, an age most would consider Old Growth. Scientifically known as mid-to-late Seral, it connotes the stage when redwoods acquire the characteristic large limbs and craggy cavities that make good habitat for Spotted Owls and other endangered species. Many people visiting the area express shock that trees big and this old, especially in a publicly owned forest, would be cut down, calling it “mind boggling”.
Many of the Mama Tree’s nearby 100-plus year old relatives are also marked for cut and will be sold to Willits Redwood Company, owned by ex-Willits Mayor Bruce Burton and partner Chris Baldo. Anderson Logging is the LTO (licensed timber operator) contracted to cut trees and haul the logs inland over highway 20 to the Willits Redwood log deck near the intersection with Willits Main St. (formerly 101).
Logging in the mixed use 48,000 acre State Forest increased notably under past president Trump.
and now impinges on recreational and residential uses, with logging coming ‘up to the bed sheets’ of campsites, trails and adjacent private homes. THPs and logging roads continually impact historic Indigenous trails and archeological sites. Although supposedly protected by confidentially laws, the sites are often minimized and under protected, resulting in financial gain for contractors and the State.
JDSF has been owned by the State of California since 1948. Its 48,000 acres provide clean, green, affordable outdoor recreation, habitat for rare and endangered species, clean water, fresh air, and carbon urgently needed carbon sequestration. Originally dedicated to the demonstration of sustainable forest practices as well as to restoration and recreation, the timber industry has taken full advantage of the public trust. Today, over half the area has been logged multiple times. Logging on the steep and fragile slopes of the Noyo River, Big River and Little River and their tributaries that crisscross Jackson threatens already precarious runs of Coho and Steelhead salmon with increased erosion and siltation.
Children have been actively involved in the efforts to save the Mamma Tree and her family, using yarn to attach art work with heartfelt messages and pleas to save the trees which after all are their heritage as citizens. “I grew up in Nature, in the forest”, said nine-year-old Rowan, who attended the nonviolence training offered to activists last week, “I’m a super tree lover so I want to protect it”.