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Description of
Usal Redwood Forest

The Land

The Usal Redwood forest is located in the Coastal Redwood Region of Northern California.

Usal Redwood Forest map
See: Usal map
The property is generally bounded by the South Fork Eel River on the east, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and the Intertribal Sinkyone Wilderness on the west, the Humboldt / Mendocino County line on the north, and state Highway 1 on the south -- with a smaller, but significant area south of Highway 1 that includes prime areas of lower Hollow Tree Creek. The nearest human 'population centers' are Whitethorn, Piercy, Leggett, and Hales Grove.

The area was once a thriving ancient redwood and Douglas fir forest. It contains more than 18 creeks and tributaries, many of them historically important and currently crucial spawning and rearing habitat for listed salmon and steelhead, including Usal Creek and South Fork Eel River tributaries such as Indian and Standley Creeks.

Overlogged for its valuable redwood in the 1970s, 1980s and earlier, the Usal Redwood Forest is now dominated by second-growth Douglas fir and Tan Oak. The area is also part of the historic home of the Sinkyone / Wailaki Indians and continues to be used for hunting, gathering and ceremonial purposes.

Private Industrial Logging in California

The forestland in California, outside of that owned by the federal or state governments, is held by large industrial logging companies and small non-industrial landowners. The original forests of 1850 California have essentially been cut except for some remnants in protected public ownership, and smaller remnants that have remained scattered throughout the smaller ownerships. The type of forestry typically practiced has been on a destructive "boom & bust" cycle; companies have taken what was merchantable and moved on, replaced by another company when easy profits were to be made.

Usal Redwood Forest: cutover land Outside of some early requirements in the 20th century for replanting and size limitations on cutting, there was no comprehensive regulation of logging until the passage of the modern Forest Practice Act of 1973. Especially adverse impacts occurred on North Coast forestland with the post World War II logging boom. On top of this came the floods of 1955 and 1964, which resulted in massive soil erosion magnified by the previous logging. The North Coast has yet to recover from this damage.

The Usal Redwood Forest received the typical treatment and impacts as described above. Massive erosion and channel blockages damaged salmon and steelhead habitat and runs have become drastically depleted. It is feared that Usal Creek has lost two of its three cohorts (age classes) of coho salmon.

There has been no real stewardship of the Usal and adjacent South Fork Eel River tributaries since Native American stewardship held sway in the mid 19th century. With RFFI's purchase of the Usal Redwood Forest there is an opportunity to restore the best elements of that stewardship with a program that responds in a sane manner to current and future needs for forest products such as fisheries, food, and building materials -- both hardwoods and conifers -- in an economy based on conservation rather than raw exploitation.

The Communities

The economies of rural Mendocino and Humboldt Counties on California's far North Coast have been in a steady decline that parallels the decline of the logging industry over the last 20 years.

Based on Census 2000 data, Mendocino County has a population of 86,265 and approximately 25 people per square mile (compared with the average of 191 for the entire state). The median household income is below the state average, and the percentage of persons below the poverty level is above average. Of Humboldt County's 121,000 residents, the median household income is $8,000 below the state average, and the percentage of persons below the poverty level is also higher than the state average.

Also on the North Coast, 85% of our rivers are federally listed as impaired due to sedimentation and/or temperature pollution, and all of our native salmon are threatened with extinction. This has had a devastating impact on communities that depend on salmon runs, such as the fisheries industry and Native American tribes. Mendocino and Humboldt Counties' population of Native Americans is five times higher than the state average (Census 2000), and the loss of tribal cultural heritage and livelihood is strongly felt.

The Lost Coast Trail just west of the Usal Redwood Forest One of the characteristics of rural communities such as those on the North Coast is the ability and need for residents to work and live "off the land." Many organizations and individuals in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt Counties have organized around this need, forming community groups and nonprofit organizations to advocate for, train, and create sustainable jobs "in the woods."

In addition, due to the nature of logging and the environmental damage that has occurred on the North Coast, communities here have been polarized around issues relating to the logging industry. Certain special and significant remnants of original forestland are protected today, and were hard won. Contention over land use continues. Some struggle to protect forestland regardless of the economic consequences, and some seek to exploit the forest regardless of environmental consequences.

Throughout periods of intense conflict there have been many voices of reason that have called for new ways of acting together to conserve forests for their broad essential values that will continue for generations. RFFI has been such a voice. RFFI's acquisition of the Usal Redwood Forest and their unique model for community forestry has the potential to "liberate" depleted industrial forestland and create a positive and caring relationship between people, the forest, and the life that it supports.

Source: Tempra Borad, Traci Thiele, Richard Gienger

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