Humboldt County has developed a plan for McKay Community Forest management outside of Eureka, and borrows heavily from the way the City of Arcata manages its own community forest.
The Forest Stewardship Plan sets out how the county will manage the 1,194-acre McKay Community Forest, established in 2014, using organic forestry for the next 10 to 15 years. Hank Seemann, the county’s associate director for environmental services, said during a May 12 briefing that organic forest management recognizes the diversity and complexity of the forest ecosystem.
“We want to focus on the entire ecosystem and not just the trees,” Seemann said. “We want to ensure that our management maintains the integrity of the landscape and is based on an understanding of ecological processes.”
The Forest Stewardship Plan focuses on how the county will reduce fire risk, sequester carbon, manage tree growth, and restore forest habitat, among other things.
Currently, the McKay Community Forest has mostly uniform, co-aged stands of young trees with little structural diversity. The goal is to use timber harvesting as a tool to create a mosaic of trees of different sizes and ages, including larger and older ones, that would encourage a diverse landscape capable of supporting a variety of wildlife, Seemann said.
About 80% of the forest, 800 acres, consists of 25- to 45-year-old stands of third-growth trees created by clear-cutting between 1975 and 1990, said Jared Gerstein, a registered professional forest ranger with consulting firm BBW & Associates, which specializes in conservation forestry specialized.
Third-growth stands are densely packed, leading to some self-pruning because there is so little space and light reaches smaller trees that end up dying, Gerstein said.
The plan is to convert these stands into second growth stands, which make up about 122 acres of forest, Gerstein said. These stands were clear-cut between the 1900s and 1930s and thinned out in the 1960s, resulting in older, taller trees that are more widely spaced.
The county intends to create these conditions in third growth stands by harvesting 20% to 40% of the timber volume on 50 to 100 acres of forest per year, with plans to reenter every 10 to 20 years.
“We’re always going to cut less than grows, essentially half what grows,” Gerstein said. “So the volume and size of the trees will increase pretty much indefinitely over time in the McKay.”
The Arcata Community Forest offers a glimpse of what McKay might look like in the future, said Mark Andre, a registered professional forester who was director of Arcata’s environmental services for more than 30 years. The city has used selective logging in the forest for years to add complexity to the forest and improve the quality of wildlife habitat.
“These 800 hectares of young forest are not very complex,” said Andre. “It’s kind of a simplified ecosystem, so by doing some regular logging you can create some dead trees, grow big trees, find more fallen wood debris and logs on the forest floor, creating habitat niches that are important for a variety of wildlife.”
The McKay Community Forest Trail Plan, a companion document, focuses on trail development and recreation. The environmental assessment for the trail plan is expected to be released soon and trail construction is expected to begin this summer, although people are already making frequent use of existing trails and roads within the forest.
The county has a partnership with the Voluntary Trail Stewards, an organized program by the Humboldt Trails Council, to build the trails, and potentially soon the Redwood Coast Mountain Bike Association.
“They have a strong interest in creating mountain bike trails in the greater Eureka area,” Seemann said, “and mountain biking is really a growing activity, especially for people in high school and junior high.”
The district plans to convene an advisory board for the community forest again in the near future, said Seemann.
For more information, see humboldtgov.org/mckayforest.
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0504.