Opinion: How the West Was Lost


Water + Air + Soil + Climate= LIFE

Clearcutting = Production of fiber, but LOSS of clean and plentiful water, air and habitat.

It’s up to you. Which do you value more? Do you want a world where the United States is 5 percent of the population, but uses about a third of the world’s timber, about half of which is made into disposable paper products?

Or do you want a world where there is water you can drink and air you can breathe and diversity of species, a world that is not unbearably hot and barren?

The words “irreparable harm” are easy enough to type and read. It’s quite a different story to live in such a world.

I live in the foothills of Mt. Lassen, where the Sierra and the Cascades overlap. I also live down the road from many thousands of acres of timberland that is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), the largest landowner in the state and the second largest in the U.S.

For the past 10 years, SPI has been engaged in the systematic destruction of the Battle Creek watershed here as well as other watersheds from Central California to the Oregon border. SPI practices clearcutting on a huge scale over its land holdings.

Just the facts, ma’am

I have lived in Manton since 1989 and became involved in working against clearcutting – not against logging- when i learned of a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) that was in the Digger Butte area and on Digger Creek, which is one of the borders of my home.

As time passed, I learned how many other THPs were in the area between Manton and Highway 44. There are 13 – with a fourteenth just filed – that cover nearly 20,000 acres.

Each one of these THPs was filed with almost no disclosure of the adjoining THPs and no discussion of the cumulative impacts associated with the sum total of them all.

According to the Dept. of Fish & Game website (www.dfg.ca.gov/habcon/timber) there are not quite 3 million acres of timberland in private ownership in California.

Sierra Pacific Industries owns 1.7 million of those acres, or 58%. (That’s about the size of the state of Delaware, or twice the size of the state of Rhode Island.)

SPI’s ownership is also across 15 counties, so I think it is fair to say that what they do matters and has consequences.

CalFire oversees the THP process, and according to their records, by 2006 SPI had been given approval for clearcutting and other plantation conversion of 45,413 acres in Shasta County alone; the figure is close to a quarter million acres in all of the counties they own land in, and their plans are to cut and convert 1,000,000 acres.

Scientists find that the temperature in clearcut areas increases 5 to 10 degrees while the humidity decreases by 35 percent. Actually, anyone who has ever walked out in a clearcut doesn’t need a scientist to tell them that.

In a time when water supplies are in the decline throughout the West, our watersheds that provide most of the water for the entire state need to be protected. Many studies have been released recently that find forests are more important for protecting the regularity of water flows and the water quality than was previously supposed.

Studies also show that plantations are more fire prone and burn at a higher severity than natural forests. Tree plantations of between 1 to 5-foot tall trees, that have piles of logging debris pushed up against the small replants, will be lucky to survive the next 30 or more years it takes for them to start becoming a forest that can perform all of the complex functions that life as we know it, depends on.

Herbicides and Chemicals

Whenever any chemicals are used commercially, the usage is reported to the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).

The yearly report released by the DPR is broken down into groups, such as Alfalfa or Grapes or Timberland. In 1989, the usage of chemicals on timberland in Shasta County was 3,699 pounds. By 2006 Timberland usage in Shasta County was 79,596 pounds.

To put that in context: If the 1989 amount was used every year, it would have taken 21 years to use as much as was used in the one year of 2006.

  • At best, no one is certain what effects these chemicals have.
  • At worst, they are linked to much higher cancer rates and birth defects.
  • Many of the chemicals that are used are banned in other countries.

Since I began working against clearcutting, some people have made the remark, “It’s private land, they (SPI) can do what they want.”

I believe in private rights too, but not when it is at the expense of the larger group’s health and well being. When an individual makes the choice to get drunk and drive and endanger others, do we say that it’s their private right?

I encourage anyone who reads this and anyone who ever turns on a faucet with the expectation of water flowing out to look at the aerial view of our area on the Internet at the Google Earth site or go to http://www.thebattlecreekalliance.org/ to see what the land looks like over many, many miles of the state.

Marily Woodhouse is a Sierra Club organizer for the “Stop Clearcutting California” campaign. She lives in Manton.

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