by Jerry Partain

Photo of Jim Timmons

Ed Pierson and Jim Timmons

It's now a familiar picture to those around Arcata. A special interest group interested in protecting something comes before the City Council asking for its support. The group presents abundant data and many opinions, most of which are totally unsupported by appropriate study or logic.

They insist their plan will be much more valuable than any alternative. They even suggest the names of citizens who have volunteered to serve on a committee to see the plan through.

The special interest group supporters point out that they have worked on this plan for more than two years and assure the council members that it will work. The City Council finally agrees and one more wild idea is implemented in the environmentally correct city of Arcata.

Sound familiar? Well, it didn't happen last month or even last year. It was on Dec. 16, 1954, that the council voted to establish a 600-acre "Community Forest," almost 44 years before the Arcata City Council had a majority of Green Party members.

But wait. Wasn't that the era of unbridled demand for homes by veterans of two major wars? Didn't we have some 300 sawmills in the county and loggers from all over the nation coming to take down the large douglas fir and the even-larger redwoods? Didn't we focus just on cutting the trees, milling the lumber and shipping it out as fast as we could?

What group of people would dare propose not clear cutting all of that valuable timber located so close to the sawmills, especially when the money would go to the city government, which could then sell the land for much-needed development?

I'm happy to tell you. The big, bad timber industry itself had established and funded the Redwood Region Conservation Council, and it was this group that convinced Mayor A.B.C. Davis and the rest of the council to establish the Arcata Community Forest.

They did it without the Greens, Earth First!, EPIC, the Sierra Club or protesters on the Plaza. Arguably, the most valuable asset Arcata has was provided by those deeply involved with the timber industry. Brousse Brizard was chairman of the Arcata Chapter of the RRCC. Al Merrill was the chief forester for Hammond Lumber. Jim Timmons, who became chairman the next year, was a forester who owned a ranch and timberland. Ed Pierson had come to Humboldt State College the year before to start a "forestry-lumbering" program. Al Rueger worked for the Dolly Varden Lumber Co.

Brousse, Ed and Al were appointed to manage the new community forest for "recreation, watershed, timber management and other useful benefits." Humboldt State College and Arcata High School would use the forest for instruction and research. Trails would be developed, timber volumes determined and water studies made. These were all done, and a plan was presented to the City Council, which approved it and announced that the forest "will bring benefits for years to come." It certainly has.

For over 40 years the public has used the forest intensively for recreation. It continues to protect the watershed and produce clean water and wildlife habitat. And while it was not logged for several years after its establishment, it has provided several million dollars in timber revenue to the city treasury.

The forest remains healthy and the trees continue to grow even while the Green City Council debates the issue of whether to cut or not to cut some 44 years after the original debate was decided in favor of the trees by a bunch of "timber beasts."

When the city celebrated the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the Community Forest in 1995, it was suggested that they honor Jim Timmons and Ed Pierson, both very much alive and proud of their roles in establishing the first community forest in California.

The city apparently chose not to do so and their names were not mentioned. It's a pity because these and many more like them were the real environmentalists, the true supporters of multiple-use of our resources. They were and are the professionals in the vast field of self-acclaimed experts we now find everywhere.

Brousse, Jim, Ed, Al and others in the '50s earned recognition for their environmental awareness long before the birth of most of our current crusaders for the environment. They may never get the credit they deserve, but they certainly should be remembered every time the Greens even think of the Community Forest.

Jerry Partain is a retired professor of forestry from Humboldt State University and former director of the California Department of Forestry.

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