Protecting Forests for the Other California Gold: Lumber

The lumber industry has a long history in California. Sutter’s Mill, where the discovery that started the Gold Rush was made, wasn’t a flour mill or sugar mill; it was a sawmill. 

Lumber’s Unfortunate Legacy

Vast forests helped build and heat homes for the miners, the merchants, and the rest that followed, helping to turn California into the nation’s most populous state.

But there was a huge environmental cost, as countless trees were cut with little regard to the impact on streams, wildlife, or the land itself.

Historic photo of timber logging effects in California.
How would we describe this?? Severe environmental impacts of certain
timber harvesting practices damage forest health and create natural hazard risks.

The unfortunate legacy of historic logging can still be found in places.

That’s where California Geological Survey (CGS) Timber Harvesting Plan Review unit and its regulatory partners come in, helping to ensure that the state’s still-vibrant lumber industry does its work in a way that protects the environment and keeps forests healthy.

An Eye on Wildfires

While they’re not wielding hoses or running bulldozers, the geologists and other staff in this CGS unit also do work that’s important as California enters what is widely expected to be a brutal wildfire season

CGS reviews Vegetation Management Plans, part of a proactive, 2-year-old state program to build wildfire resilience and improve long-term forest management in the face of climate change.

CGS and CAL FIRE stand on a road next to a wildfire-scarred hillside, assessing debris flow potential.

Additionally, after fires have occurred, the Timber Harvesting Plan Review helps CAL FIRE and other agencies assess burned areas that may be subject to damaging landslides during the rainy season.  Hazards management is a major focus for DOC.

No One Yells “Timber” Without a Plan

Pre-harvest investigation can uncover bad road like this one, which has environmental impacts & public safety concerns.

But the Timber Harvest Plans (THPs) are this unit’s primary job. Since 1974, landowners have been required to submit plans to CAL FIRE for approval before the first chainsaw is revved up.

CGS may review 300 THPs annually, each requiring intense study of historic aerial photographs and modern LIDAR imagery as well as treks through dense vegetation to check for issues that aren’t apparent from a distance.

Sara with the Forest Watershed Geology team is part of the Timber Harvest Review unit in Eureka, California.

50 Years of Sustainably Harvesting Timber

Gone are the bad old days of mindless clear-cutting, moving harvested timber over streams without regard for fish and wildlife, and building roads and bridge on unstable hillsides.

Moving toward the 50th anniversary of review requirements, the Timber Harvesting Plan Review has helped make positive changes in the timber industry that Californians can be proud of.

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