*UPDATe* October 13 -- John Andersen, Director of Forest Policy at Mendocino Redwood Company, confirmed that MRC did hire Lear Asset Management as a safety contractor in Soda Gulch, but that Paul Trouette and his staff are unarmed in the state forest. A photo circulating of Trouette carrying a pistol was taken on private timberland. MRC's sister company, Mendocino Forest Products, purchased the contract to log the Soda Gulch Timber Harvest Plan. The logging contractor they have hired is Two Brothers Logging, which has been working in Soda Gulch since logging began there. Andersen disclosed that he is part of the Jackson Advisory Group, which was formed in 2008 and makes recommendations about managing the forest to the Director of Cal Fire and the Board of Forestry.
October 8, 2021 — The debate about who is responsible for dangerous conditions in the Jackson Demonstration State Forest has heated up. Protestors insist that the logging is contributing to climate change while Cal Fire, which manages the forest, claims that protestors are endangering themselves and tree fallers by forcing loggers to stop working in the middle of a precarious task.
Another concern that has been raised this week is the presence of a man who looks very much like Paul Trouette of Lear Asset Management in Soda Gulch on Monday. Mr. Trouette did not respond to an email from kzyx yesterday, asking him if he was providing private security on the site. In a long video that was live streamed on Facebook by Michael Hunter, the tribal chair of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the man identified himself only as a “safety officer.” Lear is a private security contractor best known in Mendocino county for armed raids on illegal trespass cannabis grows in timberland.
But private security, armed or unarmed, is not allowed in the state forest, according to Cal Fire chief legal counsel Bruce Crane. In a July 2 letter to Myles Anderson of Anderson Logging, Crane said “CAL FIRE will not allow private security, armed or unarmed, “protecting” Anderson Logging operations on the Caspar 500 THP,” or timber harvest plan. The Caspar 500 is a separate plan from the Soda Gulch area, which is not being logged by Anderson Logging. In an email yesterday, Anderson stated that his company is not affiliated with Soda Gulch and has no other contracts for logging on JDSF. He also said Anderson Logging has no contracts with Trouette or Lear Asset Management.
But he has expressed an interest in hiring someone to provide security. On July 6, he wrote in a letter to Ronald Aruejo, the District Manager at the Department of Industrial Relations in the division of Occupational Safety and Health, that he was willing to hire a private security firm if Cal Fire could not or would not secure the Caspar 500 against protestors. He was responding to a Cal OSHA complaint that his employees “were falling trees towards other employees and other people in the woods...causing an unsafe work environment.” He argued that “When people approached the area in which we were working we stopped therefore we did not create an unsafe condition.”
Kzyx program director Alicia Bales was in the forest on June 15 and recorded a variety of responses on the part of the loggers. She described one group of loggers who stopped what they were doing when activists approached. Moments later, she could be heard saying, “We are right here,” as chainsaw blared and trees cracked.
Kevin Conway, the Cal Fire forest manager for JDSF, confirmed that Anderson Logging is not currently doing any work in the state forest. He said that Mendocino Forest Products has purchased the contract to log Soda Gulch, but he did not know which logging contractor that company was employing. Mendocino Forest Products is the sawmill for Mendocino Redwood Company, which owns 350 square miles of timberlands in Mendocino and Sonoma counties.
An email to John Andersen, MRC’s director of forest policy, about who was logging Soda Gulch, and if the company had hired Trouette, elicited an automatic reply saying he would be out of the office until Monday.
Conway confirmed that CalFire’s stance “across the landscape” is that the agency does not want private security on JDSF. But he said CalFire does allow contract purchasers to hire safety observers, whose job is to document possibly unsafe conditions on behalf of the contractor. There are no specific parameters for the safety observer’s duties, but Conway did confirm that they are not supposed to be armed. The man interacting with Hunter in the Facebook video was also filming with a cell phone, but was not visibly armed.
When Conway was asked about images of trees that are still standing and have had deep wedges cut into them, he suggested that protestors behave less recklessly and added that he was “disappointed that loggers have to walk away before finishing tree-felling operations.” He did not know who was providing safety observer services in Soda Gulch. The man who was counter-filming Hunter was not wearing any safety gear.
Tom Wheeler, the director of EPIC, the Environmental Protection Information Center, says it’s important for protesters to document what they see in the forest. He classifies environmentalists like the Mendocino Trail Stewards, who create highly produced YouTube videos in the state forest, as citizen journalists, documenting hazards that it’s in the public interest to know about. “They’re going into the forest and they’re showing that Cal Fire is not cleaning up the slash after logging,” he said. “They’re leaving large slash piles which can serve as jackpots of fuel in the event of a forest fire, and really cause high-severity fire behavior if the fire were to hit them. The Mendocino Trail Stewards are showing the road construction work, which is going to bleed sediment into salmon-bearing streams. They’re showing that Cal Fire is marking these trees. These massive huge trees that are six feet in diameter, wider than I am tall. And that Cal Fire is claiming that they are cutting these for carbon sequestration. So it is perfectly within their right to document abuses by the government.”