October 13, 2021 — PG&E crews have moved decisively into the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. On Friday afternoon, chainsaws roared along Mattole Road, as forest defenders prepared a tree sit to protect old growth habitat trees. “These are our last big Douglas fir trees on the coast of Northern California,” said Gabrielle, a landowner who lives near the park and has worked in conservation for years. “Some of these have been saved, which raises the question: is anything ever really saved?”
One of the activists, who goes by the name Farmer, outlined the situation. “Because so much environmental destruction is happening right now, we have to do a kind of triage,” he explained. “People sit in trees, people blockade roads with their bodies, people build structures to ascend in the middle of the road and they can’t be taken down easily. People do all kinds of stuff to stop logging out here...we’re almost always prepared to do it.” Forest defenders also monitor logging plans, but, he added, “In this case, in the PG&E situation, there are no plans to look at. There’s no reports to read. You can’t look at maps that tell you where the trees are going to be cut down. So it’s all completely opaque and all we know is what we see on the trees. All we know is the mark. And the mark, as you know, is unreliable.”
One of the marked trees is a huge charismatic Douglas fir called Dotty, because of the spray painted dots on its trunk. Dotty towers over a grove of smaller trees, all of them also marked. Gabrielle described the tree and its surroundings. “It’s incredibly large, especially in comparison to what we have left,” she said. “In our watershed, which adjoins at the top of this hill in the Mattole watershed, we have about eight percent of our original forest left, probably less, so every tree like that is really significant and important.” She paused as a tree hit the ground, just out of sight down the hill. “As you can hear, it’s really large trees that they’re falling,” she remarked. “And it’s really sad because they’re storing incredible amounts of carbon and it’s counterproductive to be removing them at this time...where is the protection, and where are the people who are getting paid to protect them, and why is there no environmental impact report?” She added that the tree removal in the park “is already on land that people worked hard to save and did a lot of fundraising for, and contributions came from all over the country, all over the world, and people believe that this area was saved, and fragmenting it and destroying the canopy connectivity is really not okay.”
Mander is one of the tree sitters prepared to take up residence in a tree that’s already a home to many. Their first night in the tree, they spotted voles and flying squirrels, important food sources for iconic birds of prey that also nest in the forest. Old growth trees that appear to be damaged have been marked for removal, but Mander pointed out that what look like flaws are ideal nesting sites for wildlife.
“From where I am, I can see very complex crowns, old broken tops, really key habitat features,” they noted. “There’s a lot of moss and lichen, some are starting to accumulate canopy soil...in other areas of the state, they’re undergrounding a lot of the power lines, and I think it would be absolutely reasonable to ask them to do that, in protected old growth groves, in a state park.” So far, the tree sit has not been revealed to crews on the ground, but, Mander added, “That is what I and others are prepared to do, if they go after those trees.”