'Hack-and-squirt' draws ire of Mendocino citizens

Recent months have seen pro-Measure V marches, protests, and demonstrations, including one at Sansome Partners in San Francisco, the investment firm that controls Mendocino Redwood Co. (MRC). But so far the timber company has not relented in its defense of and use of the practice.

Local citizens in Mendocino County crafted the ballot measure to designate as a public nuisance trees over 16 feet tall killed and left standing for more than 90 days. The person or company responsible for the nuisance would then become liable in event of resulting injuries or damage to property. The chief concern highlighted in the campaign for Measure V is the increased hazard to firefighters posed by dead standing trees and their limbs, which can fall on and injure or kill firefighters battling a blaze in the forest.

In the wake of the resounding approval (63 percent) of the measure by voters on June 7 the measure officially became law on July 22 when the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors certified the measure.

MRC spent more than $250,000 in its failed attempt to oppose Measure V, which is more than $25 per "no" vote.

The company now contends that the ordinance is illegal because MRC is protected under the county's Right-to-Farm ordinance, which, according to MRC, shields "agricultural practices" from nuisance claims when those practices have been in existence more than three years and have not been deemed a nuisance during that time.

MRC's position may still be vindicated or repudiated in court. But in any case the company is under no obligation currently to continue the practice, and risks a backlash in public opinion in the wake of the strong showing of opposition to hack-and-squirt by the electorate.

Mendocino County law gives the county board of supervisors the right to protect public health and safety. But that body, a majority of which either support MRC's position or are non-commital, thus far has taken no meaningful action to carry forward the will of the people.

Measure V proponents, meanwhile, argue that the California Code allows counties to enact provisions to protect public health and safety, irrespective of the Right-to-Farm Act.

MRC and its sibling company in Humboldt County, Humboldt Redwood Co., have applied herbicides to over 100,000 acres of their ownerships since 1999, or roughly one fourth of their total holdings. Since 2012 alone, MRC alone has killed over 5 million trees on 24,000 acres. The chief target species is tanoak.

A healthy California Douglas-fir / tanoak forest
A healthy California Douglas-fir / tanoak forest

Although tanoaks play an important ecological role in forest succession and recovery, the companies are using hack-and-squirt because it is the cheapest way to get rid of less-marketable tree species that may compete with the more-profitable redwood or Douglas fir.

According to Will Russell, assistant professor of environmental studies at San Jose State University, "Tanoak (as the most common and dominant hardwood) is a highly important component of the redwood forest. Its acorns make up a significant portion of the diet of birds and mammals in the North Coast region. It is thought that the mycorrhizae [fungal network in soil] associated with tanoak play an important ecological function in the redwood forest."

Banned in the European Union due to safety and environmental concerns, Imazapyr is the chief herbicide used by MRC. The EPA has reported that the half-life or persistence of Imazapyr can continue up to 17 months. This raises questions about its effects on air and water quality, and wildlife.

Moreover, poisoning hardwoods such as tanoak may harm forest ecology by depriving wildlife of an important food source, as well as harming soils and the natural forest succession process. These effects should be studied and better understood before hack-and-squirt has gone too far!

Timber industry practices have long featured pesticide use, including such notorious compounds as Agent Orange in the 1970s. Public pressure helped stop the use of Agent Orange in America's national forests; now it's our turn to raise our voices in questioning the practice of industrial-scale hack-and-squirt forestry!

Write a letter to the editor calling for Mendocino County officials to carry out the voters' mandate for the provisions of Measure V!


Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places