Protesting the Clearcutting of California Forests

Satellite map of N. Sierra clearcuts.  Note inset at left – looking ‘West of Lassen National Park

Shasta County’s 11-year-old Ci Yin Oliveira, who traveled to Sacramento with ten other youth, questioned the Board of Forestry directly at their monthly meeting: 

“Every time they clearcut it takes away a piece of my future,” said Oliveira. “The animals, too, what about their future?”

by Dan Bacher

During the battle to save the pristine salmon and steelhead habitat of Headwaters Forest in 1998, I received a phone call one morning from an environmental activist who told me that country legend Merle Haggard and actor Woody Harrelson would be appearing at the State Capitol for a noon time rally.

I drove from Elk Grove to the Capitol to check the event out. I arrived about a half hour early, so I went to a small circle of a dozen activists standing around and talking on the capitol lawn. I scanned the area around the capitol on the lookout for Haggard, Harrelson and the folks from the Environmental Protection Center of Garberville, the event’s organizers.

I was ready to ask the guy next to me, a short, laid back, bearded man, about when Haggard and Harrelson were supposed to appear when suddenly realized that he was Merle Haggard.

“Please to meet you, Merle,” I said as I held out my hand and got a hard, firm shake from the country bard, known for the outspoken lyrics of “Okie from Muskogee,” the “Fightin’ Side of Me,”and many, many other songs. Haggard explained to me that he was there to stop the logging of redwood and Douglas-fir forests on the North Coast by Pacific Lumber Company.

Haggard, a long time angler who lives on Lake Shasta, was there to urge the Legislature to not fund the Headwaters Forest deal between the federal government and Pacific Lumber unless measures protecting forest watersheds were adopted. He also recommended the removal of state and federal officials responsible for the destruction of forest habitat.

“Clearcutting is rape,” Haggard told me. “Several years ago I drove along the coast from Coos Bay to Crescent City and the destruction I saw made me sick to the stomach. I’ve fished in the streams of the North Coast since I first came to Eureka to work in a plywood mill in 1955. The problem is that many of the people who work in the mills aren’t aware of what logging companies like Pacific Lumber are doing.”

“The people responsible for this destruction (government officials and timber company owners) should be taken out of their positions,” said Haggard. “These forests support the grandest life on earth; to have no feeling for it is criminal. Only money is being heard now, not the voice of the people.”

Haggard spoke his mind like a true sportsman and environmentalist in his simple, but powerful and poetic way that makes him such a great songwriter.

It’s now 14 years later and Haggards’ comments on clearcutting in California still hold true, as evidenced by a protest held by forest activists in Sacramento today, April 4. Headwaters Forest is now a Forest Reserve and Pacific Lumber Company’s land elsewhere was purchased by Mendocino Redwood County, but clearcutting still continues in California forests.

Occupy Sacramento, Occupy Davis, members of the Pit River Nation and a coalition of community groups and activists concerned about destructive logging practices staged the demonstration to demand an end to the clearcutting of California’s forests and greater protection for the watersheds that supply 75% of California’s water and provide habitat for imperiled salmon and steelhead and other native species.

Wearing brightly colored t-shirts of clearcut forests and holding a banner that read, “Forests for the 99%, Not clearcutting for the 1%,” the protesters marched on the Board of Forestry to urge state agencies to stop catering to the interests of wealthy logging companies like Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). The company is owned by multi-billionaire A.A. Red Emmerson, who was personified at the protest by a ten foot puppet, according to news release from a coalition of groups.

Shasta County’s 11-year-old Ci Yin Oliveira, who traveled to Sacramento with ten other youth, questioned the Board of Forestry directly at their monthly meeting.

“Every time they clearcut it takes away a piece of my future,” said Oliveira. “The animals, too, what about their future?”

Protesters claim that although many of the laws governing forestry are designed to protect public resources including water and wildlife, state agencies such as the Board of Forestry have allowed timber companies to clearcut hundreds of thousands of acres. Today, clearcuts checkerboard much of the Sierra Nevada, as well as the Cascades and other forested areas of the state, according to the groups.

“Clearcutting is destroying wildlife, fish and the future. It is poisoning our water,” stated Brian Montgomery, a member of the Pit River Tribe. “Hundreds of species are dying everyday from the pesticides and herbicides they spray during clearcutting operations.”

The activists said SPI, the largest private landowner and top clearcutter in California, is in the process of converting over a million acres of naturally maturing forests to highly flammable young tree farms. Forest activists are concerned about the harmful, cumulative impacts of clearcut logging on global warming, species extinction, wildlife and biodiversity loss, and declining water quality and supply.

“SPI’s clearcutting is destroying large areas of the upper Mokelumne River watershed,” said Katherine Evatt, president of Amador County-based Foothill Conservancy.”When you see the devastated wildlife habitat, the bare soil blowing off in the wind, and you know that what follows is huge amounts of herbicides and flammable tree plantations, you can hardly believe you’re in California in 2012.”

The protesters charge that former SPI employees are routinely appointed to government positions with the Board of Forestry and other agencies. Two of the board’s nine members are affiliated with SPI.

Board of Forestry member Richard Wade of Pollock Pines has been a district manager at Sierra Pacific Industries since 2006, after working as a district forester there from 1995 to 2006.

Likewise, Board member James Ostrowski of Mount Shasta served as a logging engineer for Sierra Pacific Industries from 1983 to 1988 and Mount Shasta’s district manager from 1988 to 1994. He has served timberland manager for Timber Products Company since 1994.

Activists claim SPI’s influence has weakened California’s rules governing clearcutting, which currently have no limit on how many mature trees can be removed in a given watershed.

“California can’t afford clearcutting,” said Addie Jacobson of Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch, based in the Calaveras County town of Arnold. “Taxpayers are subsidizing big logging companies like SPI, who don’t pay their fair share of state oversight costs. The public is also likely to pay the cost of future environmental catastrophes such as flooding and fire. State agencies must end their complicity in allowing the destruction of the Sierra at our expense.”

SPI is currently being sued for over a $1 billion in damages associated with the massive Moonlight forest fire. The 2007 fire, ignited by a spark from a bulldozer owned by a contractor that was harvesting timber for SPI, burned through 65,000 acres in Plumas and Lassen County.

Activists such as Randy Compton, a lifelong resident and former logger in northern California, are concerned that clearcutting destroys the complex diversity of a forest and harms fish, amphibians and other wildlife.

“The devastation of the native ecology and the disregard for the biology of this region by the timber industries is gut wrenching,” stated Compton. “The state agencies that oversee timber harvesting are failing the people of California. It is time for the State of California to ban clearcutting and move to sustainable logging practices that protect public trust resources.”

Evatt emphasized, “People need to know what SPI is doing to the Sierra and Cascades, and then tell Governor Brown to step up and stop it.”

Unfortunately, Brown to date has continued many of the bad environmental policies of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, including subservience to the timber industry and strong support for the construction of a peripheral canal or tunnel through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Delta advocates fear the construction of the peripheral canal will lead to the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other imperiled fish species.

Brown also presided over record water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to corporate agribusiness and southern California in 2011, resulting in a record “salvage” of nearly 9,000,000 imperiled Sacramento splittail at the state and federal water pumps.

Satellite images of SPI’s clearcutting in the Sierra Nevada range can be found at

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