Jeff Hedin, the 2013 recipient of EPIC’s Sempervirens Award for Lifetime Achievement, describes himself as an "accidental activist."
When he first arrived in northern Mendocino County in 1976, he was shopping for a forest to produce lumber for his construction co-op in Illinois, never imagining that he would devote so much of his life to protecting unique ecosystems and helping his community survive hard times.
To begin at the beginning, "I was principally born in Montana," Hedin said. His mother was traveling by train from Minneapolis to Ft. Lewis, WA where she expected to give birth, to meet his father, a weather reporter for the Army Air Forces stationed in the Yukon.
But she went into labor as the train was crossing Montana, and disembarked in Great Falls, where Hedin was born.
After the war Hedin’s father went to medical school on the GI Bill, which obligated him to stay in the Army Air Force two years for every year of school. Until his father completed his obligation Hedin was a military brat, traveling with his family from place to place.
The family settled in the north San Francisco Bay Area, "the southern end of this forest," Hedin noted, following his father’s last assignment at Hamilton Air Force Base.
As a boy Hedin "ran around the hills, playing, hunting, fishing," he recalled.
Hedin attended Dartmouth College, where he "drifted into anthropology. I was trying to understand not only what is going on, but who we are. And I began to realize the next big question was, what should we do now?"
He was slated to go on to graduate school at Stanford, but when he met veterans returning from Vietnam he realized they knew more about different cultures than he did, so he decided to join the Peace Corps before embarking on graduate studies.
"I was on my way to Guatemala when I got a draft notice... So I was trained as a medic, sent to Vietnam, and assigned to a reconnaissance platoon...
"Upon returning I no longer fit into the university," Hedin said. "... I reached a point where I could not simply absorb information. There was a counterpoint that was running constantly, saying, this does not compute with what I experienced during a gunfight when the colonel flying around in a helicopter overhead was trying to get us to say that the people who were shooting at us had run into this village.
"And we’re looking at the village and there’s a bunch of old ladies carrying bundles of firewood and kids playing soccer with a bundle of rags, and we think, no, we’re not going to say that he went in there because then the colonel will tell someone to send artillery... The whole system of how this guy could be in a helicopter and ignore what was plain to us."
Hedin bounced around for a while, entering a graduate program at San Francisco State College [now University], dropping out and working in construction and on fishing boats, briefly attending UC Davis, and then getting a fellowship at the University of Illinois.
But his tendency to look at the bigger picture and dig deeper caused his academic adviser at the University of Illinois to warn him that his thesis was too "chaotic" to pass muster. "I really think what you’re really doing, the ultimate thing in your life, is poetry," the adviser said.
"And so I embraced poetry as a platform that allowed me to go into cultural conversations," Hedin said.
While in Illinois he had joined Endgrain, a cooperative that aspired to be "the Rolling Stones of construction... to design, to execute, to deal with the electrical systems, the plumbing systems, the structural elements, all of the various trades."
Realizing that they also needed control of the materials they used, especially wood, Endgrain bought a small forest in Illinois. "We also wanted a forest in California so we could have access to West Coast conifers and hardwoods," Hedin said.
"So I came out here, looking for a forest that had all of the species of the West Coast mixed hardwood-conifer temperate rainforest. And found one in Piercy."
Conflicts among the co-op members resulted in "a slow dissolution" of Engrain, but Hedin still owns and manages this 200-acre property for timber production to support his personal construction business.
"I was aware of environmental issues, but I did not come here to be involved in environmental stuff," Hedin recalled. Then one day "around 1994 or 1995, I walked down to my mailbox and got another draft notice... This one said, ‘If you are the Jeff Hedin who knows Douglas Fir, he says that you probably have an appropriate scientific background to challenge the sale of the last old growth forest in McCoy Creek Canyon to one of our local logging companies..."
At the meeting, an early gathering of the Piercy Watersheds Association (PWA), Hedin found out that no one had actually seen the area in question, "So I walked up, took a look at this forest, and I knew it was wrong to sell it."
Although the description of the property indicated that there were no fish, Hedin said, "I saw hundreds of fish. That was the first thing that struck me... The trees were six-feet in diameter Douglas-firs... the roots of the big trees - this was in steep terrain - were following a kind of line, creating a ledge. Along the ledge were scat from all kinds of animals. I had no idea what kinds of animals, but this wasn’t bird poop, this was obviously good-sized animals, and as I was standing there this flock of band-tailed pigeons came flying in and all around this canyon life oak that was the biggest canyon live oak I’ve ever seen in my life..."
"We don’t need to cut this in order to make beautiful furniture... And I’m speaking as a licensed general contractor with years of experience building houses and making furniture... I knew that inside this tree there was some absolutely gorgeous material. But there are many, many, many gorgeous pieces of material, and properly done, a second-growth Douglas-fir that’s 18 inches in diameter can make exquisite furniture..."
"And furthermore, while I’m looking at this forest, I’m trying to figure out how to manage my 200 acres," Hedin continued, "... and I look at this as an example. We need this forest [McCoy Creek Canyon] because this is what grew out of the bio-community on its own and it’s fully adapted to right here. If I manage my forest right, it will have trees in it that match these."
The Bureau of Land Management, which owned the land, was proposing to sell it to a local logging company in trade for protection of an old-growth forest in Mill Creek on the Mattole. When Hedin approached BLM he got nowhere, even though he pointed out that the impending sale had been improperly noticed.
When his efforts failed, "I walked into the EPIC office and met this world of people who had turned their adult professional energies to live in terms of the healthiest, most vibrant environment," he said.
He had drafted a letter to David Brower, the iconic former executive director of the Sierra Club and at that time a member of its board, "chastising" him, as Hedin put it, for supporting the sale.
"To me David Brower was just this guy who was supposed to be a Sierra Club director. To me it was just, ‘David, you couldn’t have looked at this very carefully,’" Hedin said.
When he brought his handwritten letter to the EPIC office, Sue Moloney told him to type it on their computer. But he had never used a computer before and made a mess of it. Moloney ended up typing and formatting it for him, while Anne Seaquist quickly designed an impressive letterhead for the Piercy Watersheds Association.
As the final version came off the printer, Richard Gienger walked in. "I’d never seen Richard before," said Hedin. "He says, ‘What’s up? Oh, hey, wow, Piercy Watersheds Association? Yeah, that’s great, nice letterhead.’ Then he read it. ‘You can’t send this to David Brower! He’s the arch-druid!’"
Ultimately, the sale of McCoy Creek was completed, but EPIC’s attorney, Sharon Duggan, challenged the timber harvest plan and forced a revision, which resulted in the logging company’s bankruptcy. Ultimately the property was turned over to the Siskiyou Land Conservancy, which manages it to this day.
This episode convinced Hedin of the need for nonprofits like the Siskiyou Land Conservancy to create and manage "pocket wildernesses," since the federal government is interested only in blocks of at least 5,000 acres.
For example, Hedin points to a "little stretch of inner gorge adjacent to BLM land on the East Branch of the South Fork of the Eel that has perfect over-summer habitat for coho." The terrain is too steep for logging or development, so the owner could give it or sell it to a conservancy for tax relief, and the conservancy would manage it in perpetuity as a wilderness.
"There are so many of these little pocket spots that would be source points and would go a long ways towards maintaining our fisheries," Hedin said.
The McCoy Creek struggle launched Hedin as an activist and he has participated in many environmental and community organizations since then.
Currently he is the "default president" of PWA, president of the Piercy Fire Protection District board of commissioners, volunteer coordinator and president of the board of Team Standish, and a member of the board of the Mendocino Area Parks Association, which partnered with Team Standish and the state Department of Parks and Recreation to keep Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area open during the budget crisis (see related story in this issue).
He also continues to work as a building contractor and manage his 200 acres for sustainable timber production. His son Andrew, currently studying business administration at Humboldt State University, plans to join Hedin when he graduates.
"I felt like a nuisance, a plague on these people," Hedin said of his early involvement with EPIC when he was still unfamiliar with the ins and outs of environmental politics.
"They were so generous. They stopped whatever they were doing, listened to me, and taught me everything from the Forest Practices Act to how to write a letter asking for support," Hedin said.
He was surprised when Gary Graham-Hughes, EPIC’s executive director, called to tell him about the Sempervirens Award. "There’s so many people who were there so actively involved in all of this when I didn’t even know what the words meant... who are still there, doing this," Hedin said.
"The encouraging thing is that someone who had no training in environmental biology, in the legal framework of permission and restriction, and environmental economics, can make a contribution to the effort of the people who are doing it full time...
"I would hope it would be encouraging to people who doubt whether or not they can be effective. Yes, you can be effective. Every little bit counts. Whether you feel you have the training and the experience or not, why not? If you show up, you could contribute," Hedin said.
Hedin will receive the award as part of the program at EPIC’s annual celebration and membership meeting on Friday evening, Nov. 1, at the Mateel Community Center.
Dinner and the awards ceremony will begin at 7 p.m., followed by a concert open to the general public at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets are $50 for adults, free for children under 12, for the membership dinner and awards ceremony, and $25 for the concert.
For more information go to EPIC’s website, www.wildcalifornia.org, or call them at 822-7711.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
Jeff Hedin, an "accidental activist," will receive this year’s Sempervirens Award at EPIC’s annual celebration on Friday, Nov. 1, at the Mateel Community Center. Hedin is shown at a campsite in Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area, which a local volunteer group, Team Standish, has worked to keep open and improve during State Parks’ budget crisis.