How RFFI’s Origin Story Impacts Our Future

by Kathleen Moxon, Redwood Forest Foundation, Chair

Kathleen Moxon
Redwood Forest Foundation Chairperson

Our Beginnings

At RFFI’s strategic planning retreat this past March, 32 board, staff and community stakeholders revisited our ORIGIN STORY. After 20+ years, it was good to remind ourselves of the original intentions underlying RFFI’s creation. RFFI was, at that time a unique organization created with the assistance of US Forest Capital who remains a partner in our quest.

RFFI’s founders had a dream, but also some important questions:

  • Could a community group (not government) purchase timberland?
  • Could environmentalists, loggers, academics, elected officials, foresters, and other interested community members agree on forest management decisions?
  • Could the forests, in their depleted conditions, be actively managed to pay the bills without compromising future ecosystem health or long term forest productivity?
  • Would or could a new relationship between the forests and residents be forged?

Well, we are thirteen years into that challenge and it still feels as if we are at the beginning of the journey.
We also have a lot to be proud of:

  • RFFI’s purchase of 50,000 acres when people thought it couldn’t be done—some even felt that communities had no business owning a working forest
  • Sale of a conservation easement to help protect the integrity of the forest and reduce the debt
  • Partnering with Save the Redwoods League in a preservation sale that protected 1,000 acres of unique old-growth redwoods and preserved public coastal access
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC ®) certification
  • Hiring of an outstanding RFFI staff and an extremely competent forest management team
  • Development and implementation of the largest forest carbon offset sequestration project in the State of CA, 8th largest in the US, and
  • A biochar demonstration project that was highlighted in the Leonardo DiCaprio documentary, “Ice on Fire”

The Origin Story

RFFI was started by a diverse, courageous group of Mendocino community members who really had one thing in common, the love of the place they lived. Caught in the chaos of the timber wars and redwood summer, they hoped there was an alternative to making the choice between jobs and environmental health.

These leaders had watched as large tracts of timberland were cut over, then sold or converted to other uses—many into vineyards or broken up for housing, pushing out into the urban-forest interface. Forested lands that once supported well-paying livelihoods for many residents were lost.

This group could envision locally owned timberland, sustainably managed, where profits didn’t go to distant corporate pockets but instead were reinvested into the health of forests and communities.

Those are significant milestones!

RFFI spent this past year developing a deep understanding of the conditions of the Usal Forest, conditions created by past aggressive profit-taking at the expense of forest health. We purchased the property with the help of Bank of America—we are grateful they helped us make it happen—and now we are well along on the road to repaying that debt, actually making payments ahead of schedule.

In the meantime, RFFI is doing light-touch forestry and a significant amount of habitat and watershed restoration. Grants and income from carbon credit sales allow us to do that while paying down our debt. We have also been involving our community in citizen science projects, such as tracking sudden oak death, and planting redwood seedlings through our Plant A Redwood.

There is still work to do:

  • The RFFI Board is defining the future of our forest, defining what restoration forestry looks like on Usal
  • We would like to restructure the balance of our debt, aligning our debt payments with the capacity of the forest to pay it off in a timely manner

    Reist Ranch old homestead. RFFI is raising funds to purchase this redwood forest land. More info

  • Close our first purchase of additional property, called Reist Ranch, which is a 95-acre forest within the borders of Usal, that will also be covered with a conservation easement. We are beginning to imagine how its historic buildings might be repurposed
  • Continuing to expand residents’ engagement in governance and forest management discussions
  • Completing our long-range strategic plan

I am as committed and as enthusiastic as I was when I first got involved in 2000. I want to thank all of you who came before me and now walk with me in this bold and courageous endeavor. I hope you can see the possibilities and share our dream. DONATE NOW to support the effort and get involved, be part of the RFFI story of success.

RFFI Board, staff and community stakeholders who met in March 2020 to revisit our origins and strategize for our future.