by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters
posted in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 11/23/17
The afternoon of Nov. 1, I took one final look around my house, scanning the empty space for anything the movers might have missed. I was also saying a last goodbye to this little sanctuary that I’d created for myself in the middle of suburban Santa Cruz. I could walk to town, take a shuttle to the UC Santa Cruz campus, and yet, the neighborhood was quiet and I could occasionally hear coyotes and great horned owls at night.
I had planned to live the rest of my life in this beautiful place. But after 30 years in the Aptos hills, Bonny Doon and within the Santa Cruz city limits, I was finally pulling up my roots and moving out of state, to Corvallis, Oregon.
While I knew the time was right for me to leave, I also knew I’d sorely miss the many friends and colleagues with whom I worked over the years to make Santa Cruz County a better place. In 1987, I moved to Santa Cruz from Palo Alto where I had worked as a technical writer. I sought to escape the hustle and stress of Silicon Valley, but even more, I wanted to reconnect with Nature and engage in work that was more down-to-earth than the tech world.
I bought a geodesic dome on 14 acres of redwoods in the Aptos hills next to Nisene Marks State Park. My boyfriend and I moved in and set up what seemed like an idyllic lifestyle. After two years, we got married inside the redwood groves on the land. Just ten days after our wedding, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck. Though we survived relatively unscathed, the earthquake marked a turning point in our lives.
The cracks and fissures from the quake set the stage for a huge landslide a couple of years later, following heavy rains. The slide brought down the entire hillside — trees and all — over the top of our private access road. For several weeks, we had to hike in and out over the slide until a logger from northern California brought in an enormous earth mover to clear the road. As he worked, he chatted with every passing resident who anxiously awaited the day when the road would open again.
Turns out the logger was drumming up business; he told us that we could earn big bucks if we wanted to take advantage of a new loophole in the state logging regulations — a loophole that would allow property owners to clear-cut three acres of redwoods without a permit. All they had to do was fill out a form, drop it off at the CalFire office, and start cutting.
I was outraged but I wasn’t prepared for how receptive many of our neighbors were to this opportunity. Within the next couple of years, about half of the folks who lived on our road filled the forms and started clear-cutting. What followed were several more road failures, after 80,000 pound trucks hauled logs out over our newly paved private road.
That’s when I became active in the local Sierra Club, joining a group of citizens who were aghast at the damage being created by logging. I also became active in Sacramento, where I worked to change the law to plug these destructive loopholes.
Since then, I joined many efforts to protect local forestland, such as saving Lompico Headwaters Forest, and ending commercial logging on the City of Santa Cruz Water Department lands.
After earning a doctorate in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz in 2004, I was further impassioned to protect forest land for drinking water. I worked for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District for eight years, helping to educate people about the value of watershed protection.
In 2015 I set out on a year-long solo trip around the world, to observe environmental problems. I wrote every month about these problems — and the people working to solve them — in this column. I was inspired by the good work being done by people everywhere. When I returned to Santa Cruz in April 2016, I had planned to continue my work here to protect redwood forests, which we depend on for water supply, for wildlife habitat and for carbon sequestration.
But even as redwood forests are still subject to the same old threats from logging, they are now faced with new threats: climate change, marijuana farms and vast networks of mountain bike trails.
I now see that old battles I thought were won will likely need to be fought again and frankly, I don’t have the stamina to address these new threats. I welcome the next generation of forest protectors.
I look forward to a new life in Oregon. I’ve enjoyed writing this Earth Matters column for the Santa Cruz Sentinel over the years. I’ll soon be starting a new forest blog on my website www.betsyherbert.com. Stay tuned.