Fighting climate change, restoring critical wildlife habitat, providing jobs to the local community— the Garcia River Forest project represents a powerful combination of stewardship efforts that will change the way people think about forest conservation.
The 23,780-acre forest has become a model site for demonstrating the important role forests play in addressing climate change. Its ecosystems safeguard habitat for rare and threatened species. And careful, selective logging of its redwood and Douglas fir timber contributes to the local economy of Mendocino County.
In 2004, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the California State Coastal Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board joined forces to acquire 23,780 acres of former industrial forest land in the heart of the Garcia River watershed.
The Conservation Fund owns and manages the land, while The Nature Conservancy holds a conservation easement that protects the Garcia River Forest from development and unsustainable harvest practices (and designates 1/3 of the property as a reserve).
With the goal of restoring the streams and forests while providing economic benefits to the community, the partners also recognize the potential of the Garcia River Forest to help reduce carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change.
Redwood forests can store more carbon than any other forest type on the planet. Careful forest management at the Garcia River Forest will allow this forest to grow bigger trees more quickly and capture many thousands of tons of carbon annually—in 2009, for example, the Garcia River Forest was found by independent verifiers to store 200,000 tons of CO2.
In 2008, the California Climate Action Registry—having developed the most rigorous standards for forest carbon accounting in the world—certified the Garcia River Forest as a source of carbon credits. The Conservation Fund has subsequently sold carbon credits projected to be produced by the forest through 2012, with the proceeds helping to pay for stewardship activities on the property.
The Conservation Fund manages a program of “light-touch logging” in the Garcia River Forest. In contrast to clear cutting, this method only removes one-quarter to one-third of the total timber volume in a stand and actually helps restore the young forest. By selecting and harvesting only some trees from crowded, even-age stands, The Conservation Fund is able to reduce competition for resources. The remaining trees grow bigger and stronger at a faster rate and thus store more carbon.
Additionally, by speeding growth and encouraging development of different age classes of trees, this type of management helps create complex forest habitat important to threatened and endangered species like the northern spotted owl and coho salmon.
Further, sustainable timber management bolsters the regional economy by creating jobs and by supplying the local mill with timber.
California’s North Coast redwoods represent one of the rarest forest environments in the world. The region sustains a broad array of species, including red-legged frogs, mountain beaver, northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.
In addition to improving forest habitat, one of the important goals of this project is to restore aquatic habitat, particularly for the coho salmon, which is threatened with extinction on the North Coast.
At the Garcia River Forest, a build-up of fine sediment from poorly constructed historic logging roads made the river and associated streams shallower, warmer and much less hospitable to coho and other species adapted to cold water. Intensive logging also greatly reduced canopy cover that shades and cools streams and reduced the quantity of naturally occurring instream wood such as fallen trees. These fallen trees provide important cover from predators and help produce the deep, cool pools in which the young salmon rear.
Coho salmon have been spotted recently in the headwaters and tributaries of the Garcia, including in several areas where they had not been seen since the mid-’90s and at one site where they had never been seen before. The project partners are hopeful that ongoing restoration investments, such as rehabilitating logging roads and installing large fallen trees in streams throughout the watershed, will improve key habitat for this endangered fish and aid in its recovery.
To measure progress toward meeting restoration goals, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund are using new technologies such as LiDAR (remote-sensing lasers deployed by aircraft) to enable scientists to efficiently measure indicators of forest health, including canopy cover, structure and complexity, as well as wildlife habitat. Stream habitat surveys are helping to measure restoration progress in the aquatic environment and to prioritize future restoration activities.
Through this monitoring, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund are not only identifying ways to improve and streamline our restoration efforts at Garcia, but are also testing new tools and techniques that could be beneficial throughout the region.
Becoming a member of the California program or donating to The Nature Conservancy are wonderful ways to participate in these efforts to fight climate change and preserve wildlife habitat. Please consider a gift today.