MAD RIVER: Hard Times in Humboldt County

MAD RIVER paints a picture of the conflict between North Californian lumber corporations and Redwoods National Park through the perspective of Humboldt County's lumber workers, who have little to no say in how the conflict plays out but are perhaps most affected by its outcome.

0:05Copy video clip URL Color bars.

1:25Copy video clip URL Opening credits.

1:35Copy video clip URL A tree falls. Narrator Bill Ackridge introduces the redwood forests in and around Humboldt County, accompanied by footage of natural areas and the timber production process. Ackridge describes the conflict surrounding timber production in Humboldt between environmentalists and timber companies

3:02Copy video clip URL Ackridge and a procession of talking heads provide perspectives from different sides of the conflict, including timber workers, who face losing their jobs and livelihoods due to the clash and subsequent plant closures.

4:02Copy video clip URL Ackridge paints a picture of the strife faced by timber workers in Humboldt county.

4:28Copy video clip URL Title card.

4:48Copy video clip URL Bill Retchless, a worker at Simpson Timber Company-owned Mad River Plywood Mill, talks about the mill’s upcoming closure due to timber shortages, with accompanying commentary from Ackridge about the history of timber in the area, including the beginnings of timber production, the 1950s housing boom and subsequent timber shortage in the 1960s, the consolidation of local lumber mills into automated mills owned by larger corporations, and the expansion of the Redwoods national forest.

7:52Copy video clip URL Focus returns to Bill Retchless, about to lose his job because of this expansion. At a local bar, townsfolk mingle and discuss the upcoming mill closure. A series of photos from Bill Retchless’s past precede Bill’s wife, Kerry Retchless’s thoughts on the closure and Bill’s upcoming job loss.

11:24Copy video clip URL At a union meeting, Jack Thompson, Bill Retchless, and other members discuss unemployment, its causes, and its effects, followed by historical photos of Humboldt county and the timber industry

13:58Copy video clip URL Susan Fisher, a female worker for Simpson Timber, discusses her personal conflict as both someone who needs to work and her guilt regarding her own potential culpability as someone who helps clear forested land for Simpson. Ackridge explains the ways industry innovations and mechanization have made the logging industry more efficient in clearing the forest and reduced the need for workers.

18:41Copy video clip URL Introduction to Glenn Schirmann, founder of Schirmann Logging, who discusses how federal regulation and protection of natural spaces have constricted his business. Schirmann argues that regulations hurt smaller logging companies, like Schirmann Logging, rather than larger corporations. Libby Schirmann discusses her worries about a breaking point.

22:58Copy video clip URL Libby Schirmann, Bill Retchless, and an unnamed park ranger discuss the Redwood Park expansion area and the reason for the expansion; erosion around redwood trees within the park caused by clear-cut CAT logging several miles upstream. Ackridge goes over the changes to Redwood Creek caused by logging in the area.

26:48Copy video clip URL The Retchless family takes a trip to an uncut area of forest, presumably in Redwoods National Park. Bill Retchless talks about the danger of large timber companies using logging methods with the most monetary gain, which are harsher on the environment and therefore less sustainable practices.

29:13Copy video clip URL Ackridge discusses park efforts to restore the forest in the park expansion area. Jim Adams, a worker from a cooperative, explains what his work restoring the park consists of.

31:20Copy video clip URL Ackridge introduces Pacific Lumber Company, a local company that uses the more sustainable method of selective cutting. 

32:51Copy video clip URL Background on William Carson, Humboldt County’s first lumber baron, as well as the shift to large timber corporations in the 1950s. At Simpson Timber Company’s headquarters in Seattle, WA, Simpson Timber CO Robert Watts, Elden R. Knauf Jr. from Louisiana Pacific Corp., and Keith Johnson-President from the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) speak on corporate drive toward profit and government regulation. Bill Retchless, Glenn Schirmann, Jim Adams, and Susan Fisher each talk about worker’s interests and corporate interests in relation to each other.

35:56Copy video clip URL David E. Pesonen, director of the California Department of Forestry, speaks on the debate about abolishing private ownership of timberland. Glenn Schirmann also provides his thoughts on the issue. 

38:23Copy video clip URL Ackridge redirects the discussion to the central problem in Humboldt: the timber shortage and over-cutting. Glenn Schirmann, Bill Retchless, and Jack Thompson talk about how corporate profit incentive has shaped the issue at hand.

40:15Copy video clip URL Adams, Johnson-President, Knauf, and Watts add their thoughts about when workers should be informed about decisions which directly affect them, such as the decision to shut down the Mad River Plywood Mill. Footage of lumber workers plays to the song “If We Make It Through December” by Merle Haggard. Ackridge and Thompson discuss the Redwood Employees Protection Program.

43:02Copy video clip URL Footage from the “Plant Closure Dance” and the Mad River Plywood Mill post-closure.

44:10Copy video clip URL Demonstrators organize a rally in an attempt to buy the mill from Simpson and start a hardwood operation. Citizens of Humboldt County, including Bill Retchless and Jack Thompson, meet to discuss plans to organize a co-op. At the meeting, Roy Escarcega, a community organizer, pushes for the co-op. Attorney Brad Dewan talks to the meeting about legal and financial realities of organizing. Keith Johnson-President weghs in in favor of the co-op, with the caveat of advising that the state also be involved. Daniel Zwerdling speaks to the importance of union help in community and worker ownership. 

49:59Copy video clip URL The people of Humboldt County gather in an outdoor area, layered with dialogue from members of the county advocating for community organization.

50:40Copy video clip URL Aldridge reveals that the co-op ultimately failed due to lack of money as well as help from both unions and the government. The shut-down mill is auctioned off.

51:49Copy video clip URL Aldridge and members of Humboldt County provide final thoughts on the issue and context for where their lives have taken them since the co-op failure and how the events in Humboldt County may speak to similar situations across the United States in the future.

54:00Copy video clip URL Credits.



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