Message from Founders, Charles and Vanna Rae Bello

When we first came onto our land 50 years ago, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the land - the open meadows with spotted clumps of towering redwood trees reaching for the clear blue skies like huge perfect Christmas trees. It was so serene and beautiful. Then we saw the crystal clear waters of the North Fork of the Noyo River running through a primeval canyon right in the middle of the property which is contained in the middle of 400 acre valley, at the end of the road, surrounded by steep forested mountains on all sides. 

We were looking to purchase 20 acres at the time and here we were looking at 400. The entire area had no value as the haul costs for the timber were more than what the mill would pay.  

We said to ourselves, "This is never going to happen - how can we or anyone own such timeless beauty"? At this moment we pledged ourselves that if we could, by some miracle, become owners, that we would be good stewards.

And it did happen, with some savings and borrowing from parents we became lawful owners. We had no idea how we were going to make a living or how in the world we were going to pay off massive debts but we did not allow this to deter us. It was guts of the innocent and confidence in ourselves that somehow we would survive and persevere that gave us the courage to proceed.

Vanna Rae was 6 months pregnant and it was early summer by this time so the first thing was to construct a shelter for ourselves. We knew that the winters were reasonably mild but wet. Five Family members came and in 5 half days we raised and enclosed a 12ft x40ft "A" frame with a bedroom loft. Our toilet was a bucket with sawdust and lime under a regular toilet seat in a shed. Baths were in the clean cool waters of the river and drinking water was pumped from the river into an old redwood tank.

It soon became necessary to face the huge debt we were carrying and find a way to pay it off. Of course there was no capitol, so we let the land tell us what we could do. The obvious thing was to grow Christmas trees since we were surrounded by trees. We learned that Christmas trees require intensive labor but practically no capitol so we became Christmas tree growers. The problem was that it takes 6 to 7 years lag time to even begin to have a crop. We found a government program (ASCP) that is an incentive program that pays landowners to plant trees and do timber stand improvement on their own lands. We applied and with these earnings and odd jobs we somehow managed to survive.

Looking back now 50 years later, it worked! With a mom and pop Christmas tree operation we were able to pay off our debts, raise and home school our two boys, develop gardens, orchards and upgrade our living situation.

Most importantly, our 400 acres has now been preserved in perpetuity through a Conservation Easement, and is already an oasis in the middle of the forest that has been depleted of the giant redwoods. Our goal now is to devote the rest of our lives working with "Redwood Forest Institute (RFI) we founded to restore giants redwoods, create the most awesome, private 400 park for recreational purposes. 

During this period we were also able to observe what was happening in this major redwood forests region. The Louisiana Pacific Corporation was spun off from Georgia Pacific Corporation about 20 years ago and absorbed most all the land surrounding us including the purchase of many small private land owners. They practiced liquidation logging, that is, cutting everything that has easy access then disposing the land.

Mendocino Redwood Company owned by the Gap clothing people (Fisher Family) bought out LP 5 years ago and are doing a much better in their management of forest land but still there is much to be desired to meet our concerns and expectations as to how the forest should be managed for the benefit of future generations.

Since our forests are being liquidated at an alarming rate and the recovery rate is a minimum 70 to 80 year, Concerned citizens must act now to Preserve and protect this Natural Resource before it is too late.

Join RFI now and you can make a difference.


Redwood Forest Institute is a California, for public benefit, non-profit corporation, organized under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code