Patrolling the Mattole Wildlands
Mattole defenders recently braved the snows of Rainbow Ridge to check on the Old-Growth forests of the North Fork Mattole River. On the way we detoured to recover our camera trap and bring it with us to a much more remote location. We'd set up the camera in Rattlesnake creek on a tree next to an animal trail after our last foray into the North Fork was thwarted by deep snow. When we located the camera it was dangling upside down from the tree and partially stuck in the mud. There was little to indicate what had happened and we continued on our 15 mile moonlit journey. Upon our late night/early morning arrival in the headwaters of the North Fork we set up camp and settled in for the night. Before going to sleep we checked the camera and found pictures of a medium sized cinnamon colored bear inspecting the camera. Not exactly sasquatch but satisfying nonetheless.
Though there are no new logging plans in this area the Pacific Lumber Company is engaged in a watershed analysis which they hope will result in a weakening of watercourse protection rules thereby gaining access to currently off limits areas of Old-Growth and other mature forests. Maxxam, the holding company that owns PL, may lose control of PL through the bankruptcy and upcoming reorganization of the company. This would be a great thing as Maxxam owner and corporate raider Charles Hurwitz has basically sucked the company dry and run it into the ground. He aquired PL in the 80's through a hostile takeover and just about tripled the rate of logging of the company that had the world largest privately held Ancient Redwood forests. He kept Pacific Lumber in debt the whole time. The results- bankruptcy and a depleted forest.
But back to the Mattole. Activists and community members have fought long and hard to slow or stop Maxxam/PL's forestry practices with mixed results. There has been much direct action, lawsuits and at least two failed attempts to purchase the 18,000 acres of Mattole lands from PL.
On our patrol we visited two large areas of Old-Growth forest where logging has been stopped (though not permanantly) thanks to the hard work of activists and community members. One area was in Sulpher Creek where, in 1998, activists climbed threatened trees and faced violence daily while the clear cut logging was fought in court. The lawsuit eventually prevailed and the remaining trees still stand.
The other grove we visited is on the steep north face of Long Ridge. This hillside is covered with cold springs that run year round. Pacific Lumber tried to log here years several years ago but met resistance in the form of widespread logging marker removal, a road blockade and, later on that year, a tree sit occupied by nine people right next to the Columbia helicopter landing deck. Logging contractors had been falling trees for weeks on Long Ridge and the tree-sit was a bit of a last ditch effort on the part of the activists. The idea was this; it's illegal to fly the chopper within 500 ft. of civilians so therefor the chopper would have to be grounded until the sitters were removed. After discovering the sitters, the helicopter crew decided to work anyway. They refueled several times at the landing deck during the course of the day, flying dangerously near the sitters who had meanwhile put a mylar blanket in the top of the tree for visibility. Much to all of our surprise, at the end of the day the entire logging operation was packed up and relocated about ten miles away. This included their fuel tanks and several trailers full of equipment.
We later discovered that nearly all of the Old-Growth on the north face of Long Ridge that had been marked for cut was still standing. The logging crew had been busy at work in there on the last day but had only gotten a small fraction of what had been approved for logging.
Hiking in this forest heightens ones awareness that although we have had some success here, the oldgrowth in this area is still threatened and PL, or a new owner, may very well come back here and try to take these trees once again.