An early job working for the timber industry helped prepare James Larson for his job as 2012-13 President of the Save the Redwoods League Board of Directors.
Larson went to high school in Fort Bragg, a lumber mill town on the Northern California coast. He and his family loved to camp and fish in the redwood forests nearby. But he also knew that redwoods meant jobs: “Everyone in town was somehow connected to the lumber company, at least economically.”
The company, Union Lumber, “pursued a policy of perpetual yield,” Larson said, “not cutting any more trees than were growing back.” It also fostered a respect for old-growth forests in the young people hired to lead tours in the summer, including Larson. “My primary conservation principles came from what I learned at that company.”
Larson ventured to Berkeley during his college years—and came back with a law degree. He worked as a litigator, but discovered early on that he had a knack for helping people bridge their differences to solve problems.
His civic responsibilities multiplied. He served on Mendocino County’s timber tax advisory board and was President of the Mendocino Conservation and Planning Foundation. As Chair of the county’s air pollution control district hearing board, he helped implement a law that ended open burning of mill wastes “without anybody losing a job along the way,” he said.
Then along came the timber wars of the 1980s and 1990s, which pitted industry against activists who were against all logging. “It was acrimonious.” Larson said. “And it drew me to Save the Redwoods League because I was midway between those points.”
In 1998 a friend, Howard Wheatley Allen, nominated Larson to the League’s Board of Councilors. Larson joined the Board of Directors four years later, and was elected president September 2012.
“Having grown up in a lumber town, you know everybody. If you are going to be successful you have to get along with people who don’t necessarily share all your opinions,” Larson said. “So I’ve always thought that the League’s nonconfrontational approach is the best way to go.”