To help combat climate change, Humboldt County must do something bold: invest in its forests through the creation of a Humboldt County Community Forest. Humboldt County’s renowned redwood trees are the most carbon-dense in the world, capturing and sequestering more carbon per-tree than any other on the planet. Because these trees are long-lived and not prone to fire or disease, they make excellent carbon storage devices. Beyond carbon, our forests offer so much more: clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and jobs. Through the creation of a Humboldt County Community Forest we could manage local forests to maximize all of these local benefits, instead of sending away our timber and profit out of the area.
The idea of a community forest isn’t radical or new. In EPIC’s backyard, the Arcata Community Forest has been managed for both values since its creation in 1955. The Arcata Community Forest has been a resounding success—paying for its management and expansion through timber revenue, but cutting so little that the forest continues to accrue far more biomass per year than it loses. And if you ask any resident of Arcata, the forest is something more: a community backyard that is the pride of the city. Since 1955, the city has added to the forest, helping to preserve wild places just minutes from the front door of the county’s second largest city.
At the county level, the concept is also not new. The McKay Tract, a 1,000 acre parcel on the outskirts of Eureka, was purchased by the county in 2014 with state grant money. In late January, the county released its draft management plan for public comment. (Comments on the draft plan can be submitted by 5 pm, March 1, 2019, to Hank Seemann via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or hard-copy (Humboldt County Public Works, 1106 Second Street, Eureka, CA, 95501).)
Why now? Humboldt has a tremendous opportunity that it can’t let go to waste. We have started to see a cannabis cash out, where one-time growers are abandoning their property, resulting in heavy fines and a backlog. In November, over $4.5 million in fees were assessed against just five properties for violations of the county’s cannabis land use ordinance. Other people have stopped paying their property taxes and the county may come to own their lands too. Typically, the county sells at auction whatever lands it comes to possess. But what if the county started to hold onto these lands instead?
As the Arcata Community Forest has proven, sustainable forest management is possible and profitable. We can manage our forests, according to Humboldt County values—not those of distant, rich owners of industrial timber companies.