A 25-year grassroots struggle has taken place to save the rare Gilham Butte wildlands in the face of governmental indifference and the business bottom-line.
Ninety percent of the old-growth forests in the Mattole region have been logged since 1945. Indeed, old-growth logging continues today; one of the largest remaining coastal old-growth Douglas fir forests on the north coast, the North Fork of the Mattole Grove, is still on the chopping block and is threatened by the attempts of Maxxam/Pacific Lumber to liquidate this resource.
A main reason why old-growth remnants survive today is the fight waged by the Mattole Restoration Council and Sanctuary Forest, Inc. In the 1980s, this group conducted an exhaustive inventory mapping the distribution of remaining stands. Because most of the Mattole drainage headwaters areas have been so inaccessible, they still harbor either significant protected stands or, in the case of the North Fork, unprotected roadless virgin forest. The existence of undisturbed forest in the 3,500-acre "Sanctuary Forest"--the headwaters of the main stem--and in several other sub-watersheds means that the Mattole River continues to produce clear, cold water. There is a chance that both the Chinook and Coho salmon of the Mattole will survive.
After twenty years of successful litigation and advocacy waged by the
Friends of Gilham Butte (FOGB) and the Environmental Protection Information
Center (EPIC) to save the old-growth Douglas fir forests of Gilham Butte,
the struggle needed only one critical element: an acquisition strategy.
Fresh from the Wildlands Philanthropy Conference sponsored by the Foundation
for Deep Ecology, Ancient Forest International took up the reins to match
this concept with a feasible conservation plan.
1974: Community members speak out against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal to log Gilham Butte; they emphasize the importance of creating a 2,500-acre old-growth reserve on Gilham Butte (GB). The Mattole Watershed Taxpayers Association forms in part to protect Gilham Butte.
1979: Community members ask BLM to designate the GB tracts as old growth and establish a larger old-growth reserve system for similar BLM parcels scattered throughout Humboldt and Mendocino counties.
1989: The community opposes BLM's recommendation to "dispose" of the GB tracts because they are "difficult to manage" and because BLM has no legal access to the tracts. Local radio airs a three-hour BLM hearing at Garberville Veteran's Hall in May 1989: over one hundred local residents speak out against BLM's proposal to sell the GB tracts to the highest bidder. (The probable recipient is Eel River Sawmills (ERS), which owned timberland adjacent to the BLM parcels on GB.)
1992: BLM designates the 2,500-acre tract on Gilham Butte as a Late Seral Reserve, an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and a Research Natural Area.
1994: President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan designates Gilham Butte together with the King Range National Conservation Area as a key area for northern spotted owl protection.
1995: Eel River Sawmills files two timber harvest plans (THPs) on Gilham Butte along Grindstone Creek. Local residents challenge the THPs.
1996: CDF approves the two Grindstone Creek logging plans in February 1996. FOGB files a lawsuit against the plans. ERS withdraws the plans one week after the written briefs are sent to the court. ERS files two more logging plans on GB: one in Salmon Creek and another on the Mattole River. FOGB challenges the plans administratively.
1997: ERS files another logging plan on GB in Westlund Creek near Panther Gap. The California Department of Forestry (CDF) approves three ERS plans: Salmon Creek, Mattole River, and Westlund Creek. FOGB joins with EPIC to file a lawsuit against all three plans. Eel River Sawmills announces that its lands are for sale. Ancient Forest International involves itself in protecting the ancient Douglas fir hardwood forests in Gilham Butte and seeks foundation money to purchase the Gilham Butte parcels from Eel River Sawmills. The Trees Foundation supports FOGB and EPIC in efforts to save Gilham Butte. Panther Gap Watershed Association works to protect Gilham Butte.
1998: FOGB and EPIC take the lawsuit to appeals court after the Humboldt County court rules against them. FOGB and EPIC win in State Appeals court seven months later. The court requires ERS to withdraw the Mattole and Salmon Creek plans because of the lawsuit. ERS files two more logging plans on GB, one on Grindstone Creek and another on Westlund Creek. FOGB challenges the plans administratively. Ancient Forest International (AFI) brings Save-the-Redwoods League (SRL) on board to aid in the effort to find money to buy the Eel River Sawmills parcels on Gilham Butte. Sierra Club and FOGB write a proposal to the California Department of Fish and Game to ask for funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board for Gilham Butte acquisition. Trees Foundation and EPIC are active participants in saving Gilham Butte.
1999: ERS re-files its logging plan on the Mattole River and withdraws the rest of its GB logging plans after AFI and SRL raise enough money to buy 3,800 acres of ERS land (see above). This funding was foundation money and matching money from the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board. (Governor Gray Davis on June 28 made $2.6 million available to Redwoods to the Sea to match the same amount already raised from private sources.) Trees Foundation, Panther Gap residents, FOGB, and EPIC are still very active in protecting Gilham Butte. For 13 months, FOGB has administratively challenged another logging plan in the Gilham Butte area: the 2,234-acre Chapman Ranch (Salmon Creek) plan. The CDF approves the Chapman Ranch plan in August 1999. Logging is slated begin in September 1999.