Forestry-Practice Showdown: PALCO v. Humboldt Redwood Co.
With the PALCO/Maxxam days fading into the rearview mirror, how are the new owners, Humboldt Redwood Company [HRC], doing by comparison?
Tobias Schultz of Scientific Certification Systems [SCS] discussed HRC's forestry report card with KHUM this week.
SCS, often used by the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure sustainability, is the independent forestry auditor hired by HRC.
Read the SCS findings here. It's crazy, almost unbelievably so. You'll see a spectrum-defining contrast between the PALCO and HRC. According to Schultz, "HRC is probably the best case in forestry you can get."
A bit of background on Schultz: he's a scientist specializing in the Life Cycle Assesments of products, which is the overall environmental footprint of a given product from its construction and use until its eventual abandoment. He was a recent guest on KHUM's Coastal Currents a few weeks ago, discussing the minutiae of surfing's carbon footprint, down to the wax on the board. He thinks big about the little things.
Full KHUM Interview with SCS' Tobias Schultz:
If the SCS results seem dreamy, here's EPIC's take:
"The findings presented by SCS comparing the MAXAAM controlled PALCO with the currently operating Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) confirm that HRC forest practices are light years ahead of what was happening on those forest lands during the Hurwitz years. Though some serious issues of concern remain with HRC, there is no question that the company has made a phenomenal transition from the liquidation forestry of MAXAAM/PALCO. What is more, staff at EPIC have great respect for the manner in which management at HRC is willing to engage with our organization, and other local environmental advocates, when addressing concerns about timber harvest plans and other issues."
Clearly, HRC's successes have been made easier by the state of the forest they acquired. Schultz adds that these certification results are unusual.
"Lumber from HRC is about the best product we've seen because usually you can't have actual recovering occurring when you're making most products. You're not going to be making the environment better when you're making a surfboard that just can't even conceivably happen. What HRC is doing, and they are a special case, is actually causing this recovery -certainly a special case. "
Read the full interview, transcribed below:
KHUM - Tobias Schultz HRC vs. PALCO 8-7-12
Mike: Tobias Schultz, are you with us?
- T.S.: I’m here
Mike Dronkers: Thank you for coming back on KHUM. Listeners might remember you from an episode of coastal currents we did a few weeks ago in which we talked about the environmental impact of surfing, and if you missed that, the boards have a carbon foot print but the nutshell is ‘drive less’. If we were to summarize - that sounds about right, right Tobias?
- Tobias Schultz: Yes, exactly driving was the big impact.
Mike Dronkers: Yes, driving is something you want to do less of. You don’t want to sit and idle in a parking lot watching waves. So then after that interview you said, “by the way I work for Scientific Certification Systems” and if you can tell us what is Scientific Certification Systems?
- Tobias Schultz: Scientific Certification Systems, or SCS, is a company that does a broad set of environmental certifications and we have about 27 years of experience in the field.
What I specifically do with SCS is doing Life Cycle Assessment, which studies the environmental impacts of products from cradle to grave.
Mike: And that is what we talked about with regards to surfboards, manufacturing, wax, resin and all that stuff, but when we talk about Scientific Certification Systems... is that the organization that is sometimes hired by FSC... do you know what I’m getting at here?
- Tobias Schultz: Yes I know exactly what you’re getting at and we do a lot of FSC certifications. It’s the Forest Stewardship Council.
Mike Dronkers: Ok, Forest Stewardship Council. So, they will often hire you and you go on to logging/timberland and what do you look for?
- Tobias Schultz: What we look for are the types of forestry that’s going on. The Forest Stewardship Council certification has a whole detailed set of requirements that really specifies what is meant to be defined responsible forestry. So this certification was initially developed by a group of environmentalist, forester academics, and a wide group of stakeholders to again really define what responsible forestry certification means for the world. So what SCS does is, we will go into a forestry operation and certify it to the FSC standard if it meets the requirements of the standard.
Mike Dronkers: How did you come to work on Humboldt Redwood Company land? Did they ask or where you required to go there for some government audit or what triggered the process?
- Tobias Schultz: No it was not required either through the FSC certification or through a government process. What we did was we a life cycle assessment studying the environmental impacts of producing lumber from the forest up there and we did a comparative study to measure the impacts between Pacific Lumber Company, which owned and operated the forest before Humboldt Redwood Company, so it’s essentially a before and after LCA study. Looking at these two different companies with totally different ways of managing the same forest across two different time periods.
Mike Dronkers: Well, we want to find out what the differences are, who is doing it better and more sustainably. A little bit of back ground about the Humboldt Redwood Company - they took over that land in 2008, I believe, and what they do is produce redwood decking and they also do fir beams for construction.
- Tobias Schultz: Those are the two primary things. So they make mostly redwood and Douglas fir and the redwood, like you said, is for decking. The Douglas fir is what’s used in stick constructions.
Mike Dronkers: So that’s what they do, and now that we’ve got a little bit of history, let’s just blow the lid off this thing and start with the big question. Who is better at sustainable forestry Pacific Lumber Company under Maxxam or Humboldt Redwood Company?
- Tobias Schultz: The short answer is, definitely Humboldt Redwood Company. Let me talk a little bit about why because we really went into detail to get to the bottom of this whole discussion. We looked at a few different impacts that where happening in the forest. The first we looked at was looking at impacts to what are called forest biomes. We also looked at the impacts and recovery to rivers in the seven watersheds on the property as well as the impacts and recovery to habitat for key species. I’m saying impacts and recovery because, while PALCO was causing all kinds of impacts up there, HRC is today actually recovering the forest, rivers, and the habitats for key species. So it’s just the two different companies doing two different management resulting in two completely different impacts in the forest.
Mike Dronkers:: I didn’t know too much about PALCO under Maxxam, but what’s said here is that they were working on a type of forestry... like, a thirty-five year rotation tree farm. What is the rotation that Humboldt Redwood Company is working on if that is the PALCO one?
- Tobias Schultz:Humboldt Redwood Company doesn’t actually do their cutting on what is called an even-age rotation. So what that means is, under PALCO they would come in and clear cut an area and cut down all the trees and remove all of them and let them re-grow for about thirty five years before they would cut it again. Now in HRC, they are doing totally different forestry - they never do clearcutting. They will go in and selectively cut out trees from within a forest stand but they never leave it to the bare ground. So, they are not even actually doing the type of rotation in any way that PALCO is doing, but again, it’s completely opposite types of forestry.
Mike Dronkers: Can we talk a little bit about pesticides or toxic herbicide use - Humboldt Redwood Company vs. PALCO?
- Tobias Schultz: Yes we differently can and this was one of the twenty-five different impacts we actually measured under the PALCO and HRC forest operation. What you had with PALCO is, because they were doing this clearcutting; every time you had this bare open ground you can just imagine that you’ll have all kinds of weeds and invasive species start to creep in if you just laid all the trees down to bear ground. So they actually had to use some extremely toxic herbicides to kill those weeds and invasive species. Under HRC because they are not doing this clear cutting they have been able to really reduce the amount of herbicide that they are using. According to the measurement we have the amount of toxic herbicide is actually 95% reduced and probably be up to 99% reduced under HRC in the next few years.
Mike Dronkers: Again 95% reduction of toxic herbicides on the Humboldt hillsides, you can understand my skepticism like that is hard to believe. How are they pulling that off?
- Tobias Schultz: They don’t need to use such toxic herbicide because of the forestry they are doing but they never leave a patch of ground open to the air. They never cut down all the trees so what that means is it shades the ground and you can’t have these invasive species come in.
Mike Dronkers: What is the production difference between PALCO and Humboldt Redwood Company in terms of board feet?
- Tobias Schultz: That is an interesting question and a really important piece of context, is that PALCO was literally mining the forest. So there literally is not as much wood in the forest today as there was in 1986 when Hurwitz took over PALCO. So there’s not as much wood for HRC to get at thus the production is down HRC is also committed to harvest less because they want to recover this forest. The most basic part of recovering a forest is that you let more wood grow then you take out. So while PALCO was cutting more wood down then the forest can recover HRC is doing just the opposite. It’s allowing the forest to recover more then it can re-grow and it’s because of those two reasons HRC has about half of the production that PALCO did on the average over it’s time period.
Mike Dronkers: That really seems like the simplest math you can do; let more trees grow than you cut, and then you got a healthy forest. Humboldt Redwood Company has changed the forest from a net carbon source to a net carbon sink. Can you talk about that?
- Tobias Schultz: Yes absolutely and I’ll talk a little bit more about these details too because it’s not just a story of letting more trees grow then recovering back. PALCO was causing all kinds of impacts too. What this lead to was that PALCO actually eliminated about twenty-seven millions tons of carbon dioxide storage in the forest in this twenty-one year period. HRC over its first twenty years is projected to recover and actually store about six billion tons of carbon dioxide so that equivalent to actually removing one million cars from the road. So it’s not just a story of improving the health and quality and recovering the forest and the suitable habitat, it’s actually having a very real impact taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Mike Dronkers: In Humboldt County there’s a, I think since the eighties, a fairly healthy skepticism about material that comes from the forestry industry because we have been lied to. We have had bunk science shoved on us for years and when I look at something like this it’s hard not to have that level of skepticism. But you, as a scientist, would you say that Humboldt Redwood Company get’s an A+ in terms of the environment?
- Tobias Schultz: Yes and let me say why. For one PALCO actually cut down about 385 thousand old growth trees, so that’s trees that are over two hundred years old. That was actually more then three quarters of all of the old growth trees that were in the forest in 1986. That contrasts completely with Humboldt Redwood Company, which pledged to not cut one single more old growth tree. You’re talking about cutting down almost a half a million old growth trees in 21 years vs. not cutting anymore down.
- The impacts to the young growth forest I talked about included the complete disturbance of 66 thousand acres of forest under PALCO. So that’s about a third of the total area resulting from all this clearcutting that PALCO was doing. In contrast, Humboldt Redwood Company is actually recovering the forest today. It will take a lot longer; it would take about 80/100 years to recover the forest PALCO cut down but they are recovering. The impacts also include disturbed habitat for sixteen species which included everyone’s favorite the Northern Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, Pacific Fisher, Sonoma Tree-Vole, you got all kinds of salmon species that were even impacted because what was going on in the rivers. In contrast, HRC is actually recovering habitats for thirteen of those species. So you just have this long lineage of impacts that just grows that I’ve already talked about and on top of that, PALCO, when it started in 1986 doing this widespread clearcutting actually caused all kinds of damage into the rivers and the reason why that was happening is because when they would do these clear cuts it would essentially free up all the soil and sediment up on top of these watersheds and as soon as you got a big rainstorm it would just wash it all down into the rivers. So, you actually had a few instances where rivers were completely buried in sediments because of the forestry PALCO was doing. HRC because of the forestry they are doing and the commitments they have are not causing any impacts into the rivers and are actually helping them recover. So in a nutshell HRC is helping the forest recover in all kinds of ways while PALCO was causing significant impacts.
Mike Dronkers: At this point it’s so unbelievably optimistic, this report you guys did. You have to question the independence of Scientific Certification Systems, which I’m not, but it sounds like you work for them at this point. The question I have is : how could this information transport to other timber companies in the area? Is this the sort of thing that companies up in Oregon can adopt? Is this sort of practice the HRC is doing irregular in any way?
- Tobias Schultz: You're talking about the forestry practices?
Mike Dronkers: Yes.
Mike Dronkers: Nicely done. Well, this is fantastic resource, and it’s truly surprising. It’s hard not to be skeptical about it but just looking at it seems like HRC is doing a Bang up job of fixing the forestlands.
Tobias Schultz of Scientific Certification Systems, thank you so much for your time and we appreciate your expertise.
[Transcription: Alfred Esparza]
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