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Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

"I’ve been evaluating different indexes of success," Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the Mattole Restoration Council, told approximately 40 MRC members at the Council’s annual meeting in the Beginnings Octagon in Briceland last Friday evening, Jan. 18.

Allen listed the many ways success could be measured -- by projects completed, growth of membership, and finances -- but then he said, "Tonight I’m adding a new index, the number of smiles in the room."

Allen described a year of accomplishment and challenge to participants who came from all over the Mattole River watershed, as far away as Whale Gulch and Petrolia.

Starting with the bad news, Allen explained that like many non-profits in this struggling economy, the MRC has had to cut back on programs because the state’s funding for environmental programs has declined.

The MRC’s budget in 2011 was approximately $2 million, with 85 percent coming from government contracts. This source has dried up in the past two years. The staff is half the size it was a year ago and the number of programs the MRC sponsors has been reduced.

The budget for fiscal year 2013, which began July 1, 2012, is only $700,000, with state contracts representing 50 percent of the budget compared to 80 percent in fiscal 2012.

Foundation grants and money raised locally have increased slightly, however, Allen reported. To encourage more donations, the MRC will now allow donors to contribute directly to specific programs. Membership forms will give people a choice of programs to support when they renew their membership.

"We’ll spend more time helping you with projects instead of doing the work ourselves," Allen said. While the MRC will continue to be a resource, it will rely more on partnerships with landowners and the community.

One of the MRC’s key programs is called Working Lands and Human Communities. "It’s about how we live here; it’s about making our landscape healthy with us living here," Allen said, adding that the MRC is not a group that believes the environment is better off without human residents.

Projects under the program include assisting landowners with fuel reduction and fire safety, studying the feasibility of alternative energy including a bioenergy device that would use the chips from fuel reduction projects, and gaining approval for four Program Timber Environmental Impact Reports (PTEIRs) from Cal Fire.

PTEIRs enable landowners to get streamlined approval for logging plans providing the plans meet established standards. Logging under the PTEIRs will demonstrate sustainable forestry by improving habitat damaged by past logging while benefiting the landowners.

Ecosystem restoration projects continued, including removal of invasive species and replacement with native plants grown in the MRC’s native plant nursery.

The MRC monitored the spread of Sudden Oak Death, finding evidence of the presence of SOD in several streams and five trees. "The bad news is we don’t know what to do about it yet," Allen said.

An attempt to restore a large area affected by the North Fork Slide showed mixed results. The amount of sediment released into the river by the slide was reduced, and some of the replanted areas appear to be 80 to 85 percent successful, Allen reported.

But he admitted that overall the attempt was disappointing and characterized it as a learning experience: "We learned we can’t fix a big landslide in the Mattole on a non-profit budget... We learned a lot about big landslides."

The MRC’s Youth Education program took the biggest hit from loss of state funds. During the 2012 spring semester Council staff assisted teachers with environmental education in every class in local schools, but by the fall semester the California Department of Fish and Game had changed their funding program.

"In the fall we learned to adapt to changing realities," Allen said. On the other hand, a raffle to benefit the Youth Education program raised $5,000. 

The MRC Field Institute continues to offer internships to Humboldt State University students and hopes to expand the program so as to be able to offer more credits.

Following Allen’s report, candidates for the board introduced themselves. The MRC board has nine to 11 two-year seats with half of the seats up for election each year.

Current board chair Michelle Palazzo is running for re-election, as is rancher Kelton Chambers. New candidates include Erin Kelly, a forestry professor at Humboldt State University; Flora Brain, outreach coordinator for the MRC; and Sarah Balster, who has worked with both non-profits and state agencies on restoration projects.

Ballots will be going out to the MRC membership this week.

Once the business meeting was over, participants enjoyed a tasty Mexican dinner prepared by Sweet Basil Catering accompanied by the spicy rhythms of the Latin Peppers.

For more information about the Mattole Restoration Council, see their website at www.mattole.org.

photo caption:

REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI

The Latin Peppers entertained members of the Mattole Restoration Council at their annual meeting and dinner, which was held last Friday evening, Jan. 18, at the Beginnings Octagon.