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Seeing the Forest for the Trees

For 150 years, California redwoods were plundered, martyred, horse-traded, and legislated to the point of near destruction. But now, implausibly, an epic convergence of whistle-blowers, tree huggers, loggers, and a family of billionaire merchants is rewriting the story of some of the world’s oldest living beings.

For her part, Amy Arcuri would prefer that none of the redwoods be cut down. “If it were up to me,” she says as we finish a picnic under Spooner, “I would just let the forest rest. But we have to find ways to compromise.”

For the first time in a long time in Humboldt County, that seems possible. As we wrap up our interview, we hear “cooooooie,” the traditional sound someone makes when she’s in the woods and wants to warn other people of her presence. A few years ago, that would have meant it was time for Arcuri to hide. This time, the sound comes from Adam Farland, a longtime logger for Hurwitz’s Pacific Lumber who has graduated to forester and now works for the state parks department. A strong man in a flannel shirt and jeans who looks like he has hauled some serious timber in his day, Farland walks over to us with a big smile. He and Arcuri embrace.

During the Hurwitz years, says Farland, it was routine for loggers like him to receive orders to fell trees like Spooner—partly, he says, to intimidate the tree sitters into coming down. But today, Farland has come to meet Arcuri because he’s giving her one of his cats in order to deal with a mouse problem in her home. The two are good friends and hang out together outside of work, but Farland says he also enjoys walking the land with Arcuri because she’s so good at identifying old growth—and that makes his job easier.

Talking with both of them in the shade of these giants, I can almost hear the echoes of old ghosts. Farland was on the scene the day David “Gypsy” Chain was killed by the falling tree; he tried to warn Chain to stop taunting the loggers by coming so close to the trees as they came down. That day still haunts Farland, and talking about his friendship with Arcuri seems to get him choked up. “When I was a logger, I was always the one who wanted to try to find a way to work with the activists, to find common ground,” he says. “But it was just so hard. Everything was so divided.”

I ask Arcuri if it’s weird to be friends with the people who seemed like her enemies five years ago. “Not really,” she says. “These guys love the forest as much as we do. It makes you realize that what kept us from being friends was that the men they worked for didn’t share our vision of preserving the forest. But now they do.”
 
Jaimal Yogis is a San Francisco contributing writer. Additional reporting by Timothy Kim.