This is the fourth post concerning my recent introduction to qualitative field work in the Mattole watershed. Entering “Mattole” in the search bar in the upper right portion of this page will help you get caught up.
Up leaving Michael Evenson’s ranch, my cohorts and I travelled a short distance up the road. There we met with several local residents who had been instrumental in protecting a 220 acre stand of old-growth forest in the Mill Creek watershed. In order to prevent this section of forest from being logged, these individuals (and others) banded together. At first they tried to buy the land outright, but this proved too difficult. So they approached the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which formally safeguarded the forest in 1996 (Bureau of Land Management, 2001).
Note: The vast majority of this encounter was spent on the move. Therefore I took few pictures, and my notes are poor. I apologize for the resultant lack of details and original photos.
After a brief introduction, our new guides led my cohorts and I into the forest. Two of the local residents quickly left us, so that they could continue working on the impressive system of trails they had been making. Ali and Lynn, however, remained with us.
Although these two women were visibly older than my cohorts and I, they hiked at an incredible pace. Ali, in particular, was full of energy. She led us along a winding, narrow path; always climbing or descending as it hugged the steep slope. This topography made the going difficult, but the beauty of the forest more than made up for it.
All around us were fir trees of various sizes, and ferns covered the lush creek-beds. Overall the area had an ancient feel, which reminded me of the conifer forests I had encountered in Western Washington. This brought back memories of my time in that region, which contained some spectacular scenery.
But there was little time for reminiscing, because we were constantly moving. A great deal was said during our walk, but our speed made it hard for me to write it down. Fortunately there was one spot at which we stopped for a brief discussion. During this talk, one point in particular stood out to me.
After the BLM acquired the Mill Creek forest, they placed a number of signs along the peripheries. Local people promptly shot them up. The subsequent signs were constructed by area children, and these ones were not defaced. It would seem that the same action can have varying levels of acceptance, depending on who is doing it.
Upon the completion of our hike, my cohorts and I returned to our campground. Here we had dinner, and prepared for a community forum. Five local residents showed up for this focus group, which centered on how agricultural practices in the Mattole were impacting water levels. The increasing scarcity of water during the region’s dry summers made this a relevant topic.
Much was said during this lively discussion. Divisions amongst the Mattole’s residents were mentioned, as were the impacts of replanted fir trees on water conditions. Of course, marijuana cultivation came up as well. It is no secret that the Mattole is an important location for marijuana production. Some of our informants were apprehensive about current attempts to legalize cannabis in California, because they appear to be designed to benefit industrial-scale agriculture (AKA “big ag”). The regulations in the present bill will be difficult for smaller, less destructive enterprises to comply with. As one participant put it, “The current system seems to be designed to punish those who manage land wisely.”
While this focus group yielded a wealth of information, it also highlighted one of the key drawbacks to this method: one individual dominated the discussion. He was an engaging speaker, but his enthusiasm drowned out some of the less assertive voices. I cannot help but wonder what insights were missed as a result. Of course, this served as an important lesson. When facilitating focus groups, there will be times when my cohorts and I will have to take a more active role in guiding the conversation.
Nevertheless, the forum’s overarching tone was a positive one. After it ended some of the participants remained in camp, and I appreciated being able to speak with them on less formal grounds. It was good to be able to relate to them as persons, and not merely informants. But another full day awaited my cohorts and I, so before long I went to bed.
I am now approximately halfway through this series. It will continue shortly with part 5!