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Facing Deadlier Fires, California Tries Something New: More Logging

Article in today's WSJ:  download PDF below.

What could this mean for the future of the NWP, especially above Willits?

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Most likely more heavy trucks on 101.  I drove up to Hopland yesterday where 101 parallels the old RoW.  It would cost a LOT to rebuild even to Hopland assuming that the Healdsburg rail bridge gets rebuilt. 

I was amazed in how much better condition 101 is in Mendocino County than Sonoma.

Dave you are a resident here.  Who do we lobby to get the county to force the heavy trucks to pay more to use the roads? 


I'm sure you know that trucks pay state registration fees on their rigs and taxes on diesel which goes to Sacramento and the Feds.  I don't think counties have any leverage over trucks when it comes to highway use.  If they were to introduce something like that it would be highly controversial and probably illegal as hwy. 101 is part of the interstate system.

SMART ridership has exceeded expectations, which is great, but it will never be profitable.  I, as much as anyone, would like to see the freight line reconnect with Willits and view this news about forest management as a possible way to pay for it as it could bring back some of the sawmills which were silenced over previous decades.  This is still a very long shot.  But it is now generally acknowledged that massive fires are Mother Nature's way to manage forests.  Environmentalists now agree, if we don't want massive fires in populated areas then we must manage forests ourselves by allowing selective timber harvesting.  The NWP could provide the best transportation option for this renewed approach to forestry management.

It would be nice to see the timber industry revived, but there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. It's all about the profit margin. Difficult terrain and "selective harvesting" can really run the extraction costs of the resource through the roof. At this point, I'm not sure that locally harvested timber could compete with imports from British Columbia and elsewhere. Consider, as well, that only a portion of the timberland produces high-value timber. For example, a lot of the Sierra pine is really not of much value at all. People then to see "trees" and think "money," but that's not always the case.

That's why reviving a program such as the depression era Civilian Conservation Corps. makes sense. Kill two birds with one stone. Clear out our forests, replant the burned over areas, and put our wasted youth and veterans who are committing suicide at the rate of 22 a day to work as they did back then.


Yes I agree that would make sense in a different job environment where the unemployment numbers were much higher. 

Unfortunately we have a Chief Executive who resides in a (ivory) tower and also a mansion on the beach in Florida and does not understand our western forests.

I would love to see our wonderful National forests (not managed by the State of California) better cared for.  But that requires the present administration having a Secretary of Interior who is knowledgeable on forest management.  Zinke does not have those qualifications.

   This is a great idea.....unfortunately the political scene in CA is.... U.Sh.Creek.  Give them a purpose in life....and they will come.  I would like to see an organization that would provide housing, feed the employees, and take care of their needs.  Many of our homeless Veterans, and Civilians as well might find themselves again,.... back in touch with a quiet, isolated location.  Our Government needs to grow some brains, and have the Mountain Oysters to do something about our forests.  I put the blame on them for our recent disasters.  Thanks for the sanity of Andrew F. Laverdiere......


Civics, people, civics!

Zinke does not have anything to do with the management of national forests.  Zinke is the Secretary of Interior, the national forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, headed by Secretary Sonny Purdue. 

In response to the original article, note the entire subject is the pine forests in the Sierra Nevada range and extreme southern end of the Cascade range, NOT anything on the north coast.  Means this effort will have little to nothing to do with any part of the NWP.  While fires are not unknown in redwood country, they are not as common nor did coastal forests tend to burn as often as the drier forests on the east side of the mountain ranges.  A quick review of literature reveals fire return intervals for redwood stands at around 60 years, while fire return intervals in pine forests are around 10-15 years.  

A quick tour of California forests in Google Earth will show a lot of logging is now happening in the state.  This link should open up satellite imagery in Google Earth, the patchwork clearcutting now occurring is very obvious, from complete 640-acre sections west of Big Bend to smaller patchwork clear cuts going to the southeast through Burney and beyond:

You can see a very similar pattern happening in the coastal ranges north and east of McKinleyville:

Unfortunately, the restrictive cutting on public lands has forced the vast majority of this logging onto private lands, and the aerial imagery shows often stark contrasts between private and public timberlands.  There are plenty of cases out there where recent logging on private lands, even as intense as in the above links, has done absolutely nothing to stop or slow the advance of fires.  And logging isn't practical everywhere- note especially the Camp Fire started in oak and manzanita woodlands, a plant community that burns hot and fast and produces very little in the way of usable forest products, and only later spread into more predominant forest types.   

We as a society really need to come to grips that almost all of western U.S. is ecosystems and plant communities that inevitably burn.  Not logging and suppressing fires is clearly not the answer, nor is cutting everything.  In my opinion, the best solution is to conduct logging operations in each forest type that tend to mimic the "natural" conditions, one of the best examples of this I've seen is on Highway 89 between McCloud and Bartle, but that was a good decade or more ago.  The problem with fuel accumulation has gotten so big that it will take decades at least to even make a dent in the issue.  Perhaps the best we can do for as long as we continue to build into wildlands is to make sure at least some form of defensible space exists so that when the fire comes you have at least some chance of saving a home.

And we haven't talked about climate in this, that the west is warmer and drier.  Added all together, it means once a fire starts it is no longer a "natural" fire.  

Jeff Moore

Elko, NV 

Thank you Jeff for taking the time to share the facts of reality. 

Obviously this "problem" is not as simple as some of our Pols. want to make it. 

Everybody should look at Google Maps to see all the clear cuts that debunk the myth that logging is on hold. 

I don't know if we even have a plan of how to get started on thinning commercially unviable wild lands. I hope we do. 

Mike Evans

Woodland, CA


So thank you for the correction.  Yes it surely is Dept of Agriculture.

All you write I can support and also the climate issue which is so in our face yet some in high places deny.

I've abandoned technology management to put my hands back in the ground (I have native American blood) so climate issues are paramount.

The SMART Board meeting was cancelled last week but I will be attending the next meeting Dec 7.


I feel like I know a little bit about this since I’ve studied forestry even though I never actually got a degree in it.

As the Wall Street Journal correctly points out, the forests are in desperate need of thinning in order to reduce these terrible conflagrations.  Unfortunately, there is a little annoying fact that the WSJ doesn’t mention:  The trees that need to be thinned the most have anywhere from zero to very minimal market value at best.  Therefore, cutting out that kind of stuff is an expense.  Who pays?  Congress has pretty much kept the U.S. Forest Service on a starvation diet (not unlike  Amtrak).

What the lumber companies want is the big stuff.  Cutting the big stuff that’s marketable results in tearing up the forest floor quite a bit.  This in turn creates an ideal seedbed in which conifer seedlings quickly sprout and then grow into a dense “doghair thicket” thus making the fire danger even worse!

So, if they are serious about thinning and reducing fire danger, I’m afraid that won’t help the railroad much if at all.   But!  There is a lot of redwood and Douglas fir forest that was logged decades ago where the secondary growth is reaching marketable sizes again.  That would help *IF* there were a rail line.

My feeling is that what is needed is a combination of a revived timber industry (if the environmentalists would allow it), a deep sea port for containers, export coal and grain at Eureka and the development of a tourist train similar to the Rocky Mountaineer that would operate from the S.F. Bay area to Eureka.  There is a lot of work that would need to be done but as long as the rails don’t get pulled up there is a ray of hope.


Fred M. Cain

You have my vote!  Where do we send contributions for your congressional run?


That's one element but not all.  The State Bill 1029 primarily focused on shutting down the NCRA has thrown a wrench into the whole operation of the NWP and the SMART program.  

Can you come to the SMART board meeting in Petaluma tomorrow to support my call via Brown Act to demand that the SMART board tell the public what is going on with the new State appropriation of $4M?

Richard as promised


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