Thanks to Fritz Wunderplot @ the Stinging Mettle for the tip:
Bay Area billionaire Robert Fisher profits by logging California’s North Coast forests, even as Governor Jerry Brown has tapped him to help implement the state’s anti-global warming agenda.
The Fisher family owns 440,000 acres of forestland in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma counties, including the majestic Mattole Forest.
Direct actions that aim to escalate the cost of cutting talismanic forest stands have a long history on California’s North Coast. But efforts to protect the Mattole are notable, in part, because of who owns both the forest and the lumber company that has sought to fell it: the Fisher family of San Francisco. Best known as owners of The Gap and Banana Republic retail clothing empire, family matriarch Doris Fisher and her sons Robert, William, and John (who is also well-known in the East Bay as the majority owner of the Oakland A’s) are all billionaires. Their collective worth exceeds $9 billion. Within the Fishers’ 440,000 acres of forestland in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma counties, the family owns more coastal redwood forest than any private entity ever has.
In the past several years, conservation of these forests has gained new impetus as many scientists have begun to view them through an altogether different lens: as essential tools in the fight against climate change.
As the environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions have become devastatingly clear, ecologists have started to measure the ability of forests to absorb CO2 — a process known as sequestration. They have found, unsurprisingly, that the world’s largest trees — coast redwoods (sequoia semprvirens) — store the most carbon of any living thing on Earth. Douglas firs (pseudotsuga menziesii), such as those that grow in majestic stands in the Mattole watershed, also rate as among the world’s most effective trees when it comes to storing greenhouse gases.
Fishers’ businesses & family still profits by cutting down trees on an enormous scale, thereby diminishing the forests’ unique carbon storage capabilities. Given that the Fishers’ North Coast properties probably have as much carbon sequestration potential as any forest of equivalent size on the planet, the family is a potential lightning rod in the growing climate change movement.
That’s especially true given the fact that the eldest Fisher brother, Robert, also serves as co-chair of a little-known cabinet-level body in Sacramento called the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC). Enacted by the state legislature in 2008, the SGC is a cornerstone of Governor Jerry Brown’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The panel has the broad and unprecedented mandate of coordinating implementation of California’s climate change prescriptions across all levels of state government, while also preparing the state to accommodate a projected population of 50 million by the year 2050.
As such, Robert Fisher, whose close relationship with Brown is well-known within the corridors of the state Capitol, is not only in charge of helping set California climate change policy, but he also profits handsomely from harvesting living species that are increasingly being recognized as one of our last best hopes for forestalling the catastrophic impacts of global warming.
Patrick Gonzalez, who is a National Park Service climate change scientist and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Forestry, is one of the world’s leading experts on carbon sequestration. He notes the importance of studying remaining old-growth forests to establish a benchmark for how much carbon the degraded lands could store in the future. “Published field research shows that old-growth coast redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park attain the highest carbon densities (tons of carbon per hectare) of any ecosystem in the world,” referring to the forest directly adjacent to the Mattole Forest (of which the Fisher family owns roughly 8,000 acres in total). “They achieve such high densities because they attain the tallest heights of any tree in the world.”
Gonzales is an advisor to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He also helped lead an effort sponsored by the California Air Resources Board to inventory the carbon in all of California’s ecosystems, and to estimate their changes over time, thus providing a scientific foundation for the role of forests in meeting the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the 2006 California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32).
The Fishers are also extremely influential and politically active, but their ties to the Brown administration, in particular, are evident in numerous ways. For example, Anne Gust Brown, the governor’s wife, served as general counsel, chief administrative officer, and executive vice president of The Gap during her fourteen years with the retailer. Her boss was Robert Fisher, The Gap’s former president and CEO.
One of Governor Brown’s main priorities last fall was the passage of Proposition 1(the thief of Trinity River Water), the $7.5 billion state water bond that voters approved in November. According to Secretary of State data, the biggest donor to Yes on Prop 1 was the Jerry Brown for Governor 2014 campaign, which gave just shy of $5.2 million. Collectively, the Fisher family was the campaign’s second biggest pool of financial support. They contributed more than $1.5 million, with Robert Fisher personally chipping in $400,000.
Meanwhile, Brown has used revenues from the cap-and-trade program as a key funding source for his favored projects, one of which is the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) — financed by $130 million in annual cap-and-trade revenue. Sacramento State University political science instructor Peter Detwiler, who worked in the first Brown administration’s Office of Planning and Budget (under which the SGC is now housed), noted in an interview that the SGC is distinct from what he called “picket-fence politics” — the tendency for state agencies to be divided by functions, such that they rarely collaborate with one another to pursue larger policy objectives.
The SGC, by contrast, coordinates among all the state’s major agencies. The Sacramento politics journal Capitol Weekly noted in October 2014 that the “SGC reflects Brown’s vision as much as any entity in government.”
On the SGC, Robert Fisher sits alongside secretaries from California’s primary state agencies, including the California Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency. Fisher was originally appointed to the SGC by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009, but then was reappointed by Brown in 2013. In the coming years, carbon sequestration will become a larger focus of California climate change policy. In 2016, the California Natural Resources Agency is set to unveil its “Forest Carbon Plan,” which will set clearer proposals for storing carbon in trees — a plan likely to be profoundly shaped by the timber industry. McCoy said the SGC will be “coordinating more closely” with state agencies to promote carbon sequestration by that point.
However, according to the best available information, existing state policy has not led to more carbon storage in forests. A California Air Resources Board study led by UC Berkeley Forestry Professor John Battles and released last year shows that the amount of carbon sequestered on California’s forests and other ecosystems declined by nearly 4 percent from 2001 to 2008.
When the Fishers started gobbling up the North Coast’s timberlands in 1998, many onlookers were mystified. At the time, the trendline for timber real estate was aiming in a single direction: down. The Timber Wars between loggers and environmentalists were still roiling. And the Fishers were already being stung by a wave of bad publicity regarding The Gap’s use of sweatshop labor, which made them a target of burgeoning campaigns against corporate globalization.
When I attempted to reach Robert Fisher or one of his representatives for comment on the apparent conflict between profiting from logging and helping lead the state’s climate policy, I received an email from MRC/HRC Chairman Dean. “Our forest businesses, of which Bob Fisher is an investor, have worked to be good stewards of the land and also to be a successful business.” He continued, “We have worked hard to balance improving the ecological health of our forest and operating as a successful business, and these goals to us are consistent with the broader mission of the Strategic Growth Council.”
Governor Brown’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this report.
By Will Parrish East Bay Express
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