CAN WE HARVEST TIMBER AND PROTECT OUR STREAMS?
Local residents and visitors often ask about the increasing number of visible clear-cuts in the Sacramento Canyon. Since the early 1990’s, harvest methods on private timber company lands in our area have shifted from “selection,” in which only some of the trees in a stand are harvested, to clear-cutting. This shift can be clearly observed in comparing satellite photos from 1993 and 2012 (photos below). Clear-cutting, also known as “even-aged management,” is sometimes favored because trees grow faster in the open sunlight, and because it is more efficient to harvest entire stands of the same age than to return repeatedly to remove portions of the growth.
The primary risk to water quality from timber harvest is erosion of sediment into streams. Soil can erode from exposed areas without forest cover, and the older networks of forest roads (visible in the 1993 satellite photo) are often an important source of erosion. Importantly, in the past 20 years, timber companies and the U.S. Forest Service have rebuilt many forest roads and stream crossings to reduce their erosion potential. Recent water quality monitoring indicates that most sediment in streams in our area is from natural erosion of stream banks, and that water quality remains very good, except in cases of erosion following large wildfires.
The California Forest Practice Rules (FPRs) require that clear-cuts be replanted. This is usually done within a year after harvest. The FPRs also ban clear-cuts next to each other, limiting erosion but resulting in the patchy appearance on the landscape. The clear-cuts visible on the 1993 photo can barely be located on the 2012 photo, because they are covered with young trees.
Only about 1/3 of the wood products used in California are grown in the state. Every day scores of trucks and railroad cars carry lumber from Oregon and Washington down the Sacramento Canyon toward the cities to the south. About 15 percent of the timber harvested in California comes from Shasta County, and timber is an important part of the local economy.
Timber harvest levels are largely driven by market conditions. Timber harvest levels in Shasta County were high prior to the recent recession, and are approaching those levels again. Although federal agencies own the majority of the forests in our local watersheds, over 90 percent of the harvest comes from private land.
Cal-Fire (The California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection) regulates private timber harvest under the most stringent forest practice rules of any state. The recent passage of a one percent tax on lumber sold in California is intended to pay for the staff of the regulatory agencies.
The FPRs require buffer strips along streams, limit clear-cuts to 20 acres (much smaller than in Oregon and Washington), and require management practices for roads and stream crossings. The California Water Control Board has found that these required practices are sufficient to protect streams in most cases, even using clear- cutting. We appreciate the efforts of timber companies and regulatory agencies to protect water quality, one of our most important amenities.