Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Using a Forest to Build a Bridge

The terms are “building bridges” and “bridging the gap”.  You hear the terms quite often in attempting to find common ground among groups with diverse viewpoints. Just what constitutes a “gap”?  Can all “gaps” be closed and if a gap is successfully closed, should the “gap” meet in the middle?

In the environmental world there are built-in philosophical gaps. These gaps vary in size and by region depending upon the type of resource involved. When considering one end of a national philosophical gap, we see one side believing that all efforts toward sustainability and environmental stewardship are led by the government and that environmental extremists are bent on the destruction of personal freedoms and property rights through job-killing regulations.  On the other side of the national gap, we see a side that believes the anti-environmentalist has never met a tree that “did not need to be cut” and cannot understand what part of the word “sustainability” is so difficult to grasp..

On a regional and local level, the gap becomes more identifiable.  Jobs and economic development often drive the local agenda. Water quantity and quality are always on the table here in the west. Urban needs versus rural lifestyle come into play. Local control over nationally-owned resources enviably creeps into the discussion.

Let’s look at how one organization managed to successfully close a gap and build a bridge using a forest. The northwest section of northern California is blessed with a climate conducive to growing trees at an incredible rate. Fir, pine and redwood are found in abundance.  Logging in past 150 years has eliminated almost 95% of old-growth redwood and created serious degradation to watersheds. Eighty-five percent of North Coast rivers are federally listed as impaired due to sedimentation and/or temperature pollution, and all native salmon are threatened with extinction. Logging has had a devastating impact on communities that depend on salmon runs, such as the fisheries industry and Native American tribes.

As the conservation movement gained traction in the 1970’s, public attention on historical logging practices and the lack of sustainable logging practices came to the forefront. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, public concern on seemingly lax regulations on logging and the effect on down-stream water quality filled local newspapers.

Timber supporters responded to critics citing their strict adherence to state regulations and the need for jobs in rural communities. Protesters began sitting in trees to halt harvesting.  Tractors and harvest machinery were damaged or destroyed by protesters.  Law enforcement often confronted protesters adding costs to taxpayers and triggering lawsuits on both sides. By the late 1990’s a full-scale “timber war” on the North Coast was in place.

In addition, the nature of logging and the environmental damage that had occurred on the North Coast had polarized communities around issues relating to the logging industry. Certain special and significant remnants of original forestland are protected today through hard fought battles against logging interest and local governments. Contention over land use still continues today.  Some struggle to protect forestland regardless of the economic consequences, and some seek to exploit the forest regardless of environmental consequences.

Now imagine yourself in charge of trying bridge this gap.  Where would you even start? It was safe to assume that both sides in this war distrusted and disliked each other. Difficult as this may be to believe, there was a group of people who managed to find a way to the bridge the gap and bring some peace to the land.  Meet the Redwood Forest Foundation.

The Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. (RFFI) is a private non-profit, Section 501(c) 3 organization. As stated by RFFI, their 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.

The RFFI created a model of working community forests by purchasing and sustainably managing the once great redwood forests surrounding the communities of the redwood region in northwestern California. The forest is designed to practice forest management to demonstrate respect for the integrity of forest systems, provide sustainable habitat provide high quality water, air, and forest products along with the open space.

The jobs created by the sustained flow of forest products provide a family-friendly income. The long-term profits benefit the community through augmentation of existing county budgets for education, roads and public welfare. Finally, the forest will provides a space for young and old to enjoy in culturally diverse ways.

The universal goal managing these lands is for social, environmental and economic benefits. This is commonly referred to as the triple bottom line.

The RFFI purchased approximately 50,635 acres of redwood forest just north of Fort Bragg, CA. The Bank of America provided RFFI with an innovative loan package that enabled RFFI to negotiate the purchase. Patient and flexible loan terms along with the sale of a conservation easement allow RFFI to meet its conservation management goals, keeping harvest levels low while the land and inventories recover. Once RFFI pays off the loans, they will own the property free and clear and will be able to increase the conservation benefits and economic returns to the local community. The parties believe this financing is a model for raising private capital that provides community development and environmental benefits.

RFFI and The Conservation Fund signed a letter of intent that will allow the Fund to seek funding to acquire a working forest conservation easement. The easement sale has the joint benefit of assuring that the baseline conservation benefits are maintained in perpetuity and assisting RFFI service its debt, thereby facilitating their long-term ownership.

To settle on a model required RFFI not only bridge a huge gap but bring forth a plan to move forward in solving community division.  In analyzing just how this was done we should look at the goals and mission of one of the partners in the process. The Conservation Fund, a national organization, helps government; community and business fulfill top conservation priorities. They provide bridge capital and skills in real estate, finance, strategic planning, and community development to help organizations acquire conservation lands and craft sustainable strategies. Their goal is to put partners first, prioritizing conservation goals and helping save land that is valued by your community or organization.  In doing so, they seek to be recognized for their professional excellence, business integrity, entrepreneurial spirit and innovative culture.

In essence, the RFFI took the Conservation Fund’s concept of collaboration and partnering and applied it on the local level. RFFI looked at the needs and contributions each partner could make and tailored a plan to accomplish the goals of the community.

As members of LDS Earth Stewardship, we should be looking for opportunities to apply the RFFI model to address the gaps we find in our communities today. Buying a forest is not the solution in most communities, but with enough collaboration, a community can sit down and find out what will work. Every community is in a watershed and grass-roots organizations need a model in order to progress. Can we, as members of an organization and a community, provide the leadership and resources?


Daunting as it may be, it is possible to reverse this kind of damage. The logjam was removed and modified by hand in 1979 and 1980, reopening access to habitat that has become some of the most used and valuable habitat for all three listed salmon species in the Usal Redwood Forest. The photo below of Anderson Creek was taken in 2010. This stretch of Anderson Creek is about one mile upstream from the 1979 logjam shown in the photo above. Now, thirty years after that stream was re-opened, you can see a large Chinook salmon redd (spawning nest).


Anderson Creek, 2010: The very large Chinook salmon redd from the center to the lower right hand corner of the photo probably contains more than 3,000 eggs. Hundreds of salmon and steelhead often spawn each year in this tributary to Indian Creek in the South Fork Eel River watershed. Surveyors of the spawning may be seen in the upper left hand corner of the photo. Photos courtesy of RFFI.

  • Peter says:

    I respect the Redwood Forest Foundation for many reasons, but mostly because they put they are putting their beliefs into action. Rather than simply asserting that *other people* should practice forestry that is economically and environmentally sustainable, they are investing of themselves to demonstrate that such a thing is even possible. Along the way, they are breaking down old battle lines between environmentalists and loggers. I don’t know whether their experiment will succeed or not, but even making the attempt puts them head and shoulders above the crowd. That’s stewardship in action.

  • Brook_Trout says:

    Great read, Dave. Thanks for this information!