RFFI works to sustain a way of life and protect forests

President of Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) Kathleen Moxon was the guest speaker at last week's Garberville Rotary Club. Previously, Moxon was the executive director at the Humboldt Area Foundation for 15 years prior to her departure at the end of 2010.

The RFFI was formed in 1997 as the first non-profit in the nation to own its own forests. Moxon said it was all about jobs and investing back in our local communities.

RFFI is a non-profit organization of stakeholders, including loggers, environmentalists, community activists, foresters and others, working together to conserve forestlands and to protect biodiversity, mitigate climate change and improve the local economy in an equitable fashion.

As stated on their website RFFI's vision is to establish community-based forests that provide both critical habitat for increased biodiversity and improved regional economic vitality.

Their mission is to acquire, protect, restore, and manage forestlands and other related resources in the redwood region for the long-term benefit of the communities located there.

In 2007, with a loan from Bank of America, RFFI purchased the 50,000-acre Usal Redwood Forest for $1,100 an acre, which was full-market value at the time. They currently owe $65 million on the loan with hopes of paying it off within the 20-year agreement.

The timber companies were concerned when RFFI purchased the Usal Redwood Forest at such a high price. They believed this would cause the price of other timberland to be cost-prohibitive for other companies to purchase.

Moxon said, "We purchased this property at the height of the insanity. We were the ‘green child' of Bank of America and we had plans to sell the conservation easement, which we did for $19 million. It has been a hard-fought process from 2007 until today."

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary legally binding agreement between a landowner and a qualified land trust or government entity that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect ecological, historic, or scenic resources. Besides possessing a piece of land and paying taxes on it, landowners have rights to the land such as the ability to subdivide, build structures, cut trees, mine for minerals, and other rights.

A conservation easement allows a landowner to retain ownership while restricting some of those rights in order to protect the property's conservation values. Easements are custom-designed and negotiated to meet the personal and financial needs of the landowner. An easement may cover portions of a property or the entire parcel. The easement will identify the rights the landowner wishes to retain, limit, or forgo.

The sale of the conservation easement removed the right to development for RFFI.

Moxon said, "We must abide by the Forest Stewardship Council's rules."

The California Forest Stewardship Program was created to encourage good stewardship of California's private forestland. The program provides technical information and assistance to landowners to promote sound forest management, and assists communities in solving forest-related issues.

Moxon said that the state now holds the conservation easement and it will most likely be given to Cal Fire at some time in the future.

RFFI also sold the Usal beach access property to Save-the-Redwoods League for $5 million.

One of the agreements was that RFFI would not allow the forest to be logged for the first five to 10 years. Around 60% of the forest is hardwood with the remainder being mostly second-growth redwood and fir.

When Moxon was asked about a fire protection plan, she said that there has been a very aggressive approach to fire safety and a fire plan is available to help if needed. RFFI is constantly working to thin the undergrowth brush with help from volunteers and the area's Native Americans. She said these volunteers are definitely investing a lot of "sweat equity," to help preserve these lands

RFFI is currently modeling several different selective-harvest plans along with help from local RFFI board members John Rogers and Richard Geinger. She said they are working towards the goal of a workable plan for everyone concerned with the preservation and harvesting of the hardwoods. Whitethorn Construction is working with them to purchase quality tan oak saw logs for flooring and other uses.

Is biochar the future?

RFFI has received a grant for $250,000 for a biochar program. Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonization of biomass. It may be added to soils with the intention to improve soil functions and to reduce emissions from biomass that would otherwise naturally degrade to greenhouse gases. Biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration value. These properties are measurable and verifiable in a characterization scheme, or in a carbon emission offset protocol.

This 2,000 year-old practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain their nutrients and water.

Biochar is a very useful soil amendment that allows the use of less water and fertilizers. It is often used in the place of pearlite. The entire tree is used to produce biochar leaving no byproducts or waste. Local gardening centers are currently selling more and more biochar as it becomes more available and well-known, so there could be a large market for this product in the future.

Moxon said RFFI is working with partnering with Schatz Energy Lab at HSU to get this project up and running as soon as possible. The machine is huge and very expensive. Schatz is also looking into using the byproduct created during the production of the biochar as a form of alternative energy.

Nature Center

Another important project planned for the Usal Redwood Forest is the formation and funding of an educational nature center. Moxon said they would like to install cameras in the forest that could be connected to local schools. Students could watch nature as it unfolds right from their own classrooms.

Environmental Destruction

Another major concern of RFFI is marijuana growing in the Usal Redwood Forest. She said they aren't too concerned with the "Mom and Pop" operations, but with the large, commercial grows. These large grows cause extreme environmental damage to the land. Not only do they divert natural waterways, but these people leave large amounts of trash and hazardous waste behind, along with vast amounts of fertilizers and poisons. She said local law enforcement has been very helpful and has cooperated to their fullest capacity, but they are stretched to the maximum.

Moxon said she really hates to see the federal government come in with large convoys and armed forces, but this may be what's in store for our area more and more often. RFFI faces enormous expense when they have to go in and clean up these toxic areas.

Carbon Credits

Another subject Moxon discussed was selling carbon credits to companies like PG&E. These kinds of green programs help these companies improve their public images and offer incentives to produce cleaner energy.

The carbon credit system was ratified in conjunction with the Kyoto Protocol. Its goal is to stop the increase of carbon dioxide emissions.

For example, if an environmentalist group plants enough trees to reduce emissions by one ton, the group will be awarded a credit. If a steel producer has an emissions quota of 10 tons, but is expecting to produce 11 tons, it could purchase this carbon credit from the environmental group.

The carbon credit system looks to reduce emissions by having countries honor their emission quotas and offer incentives for being below them.

She said, "When we sell carbon credits, that means trees we don't cut down. Carbon credits are good for 100 years."

Art Harwood, whose family owned Harwood Products, Inc. in Branscomb said it best: "We think this is the future of forest ownership. These forests will not stay intact very much longer unless something changes dramatically. If we can make this work here, then we're creating a blueprint that should work anywhere."

RFFI is also looking into the purchase of property near Redwood Acres in Eureka currently owned by Green Diamond Resource Company. They are still in the planning stages, but hope to proceed with this purchase in the future.

photo captions:

1. Usal Redwood Forest

2. REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SUSAN GARDNER

Kathleen Moxon speaking to the Garberville Rotary Club about the Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. regarding the work they are doing in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

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