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The Propaganda Gap (December 16, 1998)

On November 27 the Sacramento Bee quoted John Fisher, co-owner of Mendocino Redwoods and son of Gap Founder Don Fisher of the Fisher family (estimated net worth: $11 billion) with his view of the company’s critics: They “seem to want no logging whatsoever. ‘If we tomorrow said we're not going to cut another tree,’ said Fisher, ‘there would be 650 people out of work and we don't believe that would prove anything about how to operate a timber company sustainably’.”

On December 2, 1998, Mike Geniella of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat began an odd story about former Mendocino County 5th District Supervisor Norman de Vall’s views on the Fisher family’s new timber business with the same theme. “Former Mendocino County Supervisor Norman de Vall wants the new owners of former Louisiana-Pacific Corp. timberlands to mothball local sawmills, lay off hundreds of workers and “let the land heal itself.” 

The irony here is that except for the indifference to the welfare of timber workers which Geniella wrote but attributed to the garrulous and predictably fatuous de Vall, everything deVall said is a matter of demonstrable, verifiable fact. 

But Geniella’s story set off a firestorm of reaction, including an editorial in the Daily Journal denouncing deVall, a lengthy letter from Mendocino Country Environmentalist editor Richard Johnson and a fiery audio appearance on KZYX by the legendary Comptche logger, Jerry Philbrick. Meadows and Johnson both made some valid, if worn-out, debating points. But both were seriously flawed in several major respects while, Philbrick, who tends to become apoplectic at the mere mention of deVall’s name, conceded that there are indeed many badly overcut lands in the Coastal area which should be left alone for decades. 

By all the available evidence, deVall’s claim that Mendocino Redwood’s stewardship promises are a “ruse,” and the first steps towards large-scale real estate development is true. Most of MRC’s newly acquired land is decades away from any possible recovery as productive timber land. L-P’s road network, which MRC continues to rehabilitate and repair, will make conversion to second home parcels that much easier. L-P sold 80,000 inland acres to real estate brokers prior to the MRC deal and that land is now being sold off in pieces for whatever realtors and buyers can make of it: private hunt clubs, some residual hardwood production, commercial grazing, vineyards and, water and septic permitting, rural development schemes like the ones Bill and Hillary set up in Arkansas now known as “Whitewater.” 

MRC’s timberland is coastal land, already parceled up via certificates of compliance — the original homestead allotments of the 19th century bought up by timber companies and combined in vast timber tracts in the first half of this century. The Fisher family, owners of MRC, are real estate development specialists, which is how they amassed their initial fortune prior to going into the clothing business. While many of the usual corporate shills want to “give them a chance,” it’s obvious that MRC is now cashing in the trees L-P missed prior to developing it as real estate. 

MRC hasn’t withdrawn, suspended or changed any of L-P’s timber harvest plans, nor have they made any changes in L-P’s two Sustained Yield Plans, the ones L-P withdrew at one point last year with a note admitting that their timberlands could no longer be productively managed for timber, and selling out. MRC is rushing the cut to the point of conducting winter operations, something Louisiana-Pacific seldom did until recently. 

Additionally, the County Supervisors’ meeting minutes show that MRC is regularly taking forest land out of timber production zoning, and has refused to change any of L-P’s highly criticized practices on the ground — clearcutting, problematical herbicides, winter operations, and the vilification (pace deVall) of citizens who challenge their cash-in plans.

MRC’s stewardship claims as relayed to us in full-page newspaper ads and their new website, are mostly restatements of the obvious, promises to comply with the law, or vague, and unverifiable, green promises. A few examples:

On harvest levels: MRC estimates “a current harvest level in the range of 2% to 2.5%…” Then later, MRC “is harvesting in some manner only about 3% of its total acreage each year, and is expecting to annually harvest 2% to 2.5% of its merchantable inventory in the next several years.”

On certification of harvest levels: MRC “began the process.”

On endangered species: MRC “expects to demonstrate the wildlife habitat on its lands will improve over time.” And “MRC has begun working in cooperation with several groups to improve its fisheries in a single watershed with high potential for Coho salmon restoration.”

On clearcuts: “MRC is studying this issue.” (As they clearcut.)

On selection cutting: MRC “uses a significant amount.”

On cumulative impacts: “MRC is considering what additional procedures may be implemented to ensure that the best assessment of cumulative impacts is being made.”

On general forest practices: “All watersheds ... are treated with care,” and “MRC expects to continue conducting Level ‘2’ watershed analysis,” and “MRC expects the health of the forests to improve under its stewardship.”

On subdivisions: “MRC does not currently have any plans to develop any real estate associated with its productive forestlands.”

President Molester himself couldn’t be more masterfully evasive. 

While it’s true that some of the people who complain about MRC’s timber practices are of the exhibitionist type who look like they tumbled out of a Dickens novel and who do indeed “give the environmentalism a bad name,” MRC’s Northcoast strategy is simply the old “log and talk” we saw work so well five years ago during the prolonged Forest Advisory Committee hearings. Sure, we’ll talk to greenies, but we’ll do what we want to the forests of Mendocino County while we’re at the negotiating table.  

One Comment

  1. izzy December 14, 2020

    One thing that has certainly changed over the last 22 years is the attractiveness of potential homesites deep in the western forests.

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