Timber rules to help salmon
Smaller harvest seen by logging company
In northeastern Yuba County, a timber company is looking at a difficult future, while nature lovers see hope for restoring salmon runs.
Their emotions stem from the same place: Revised regulations approved in September by the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection that severely limit how much timber harvesting can be done near creeks, streams and other watersheds.
By reducing sediment, debris and other byproducts of nearby logging, the board hoped to make streams across California clean enough to boost existing salmon runs, or to reintroduce the fish to rivers such as the Yuba River.
“The hope is we will be a contributor to that happening,” said George Gentry, executive officer of the state forestry board. “But one industry, or one different practice, is not going to bring back the fish.”
Timber harvesters, such as Paul Violett of Soper-Wheeler Co. in Brownsville, said they have a more jaded view.
Soper-Wheeler’s property includes South Honcut Creek, which eventually flows into the Yuba. Though it’s too early to know the overall effect the regulations will have on his company’s logging in Brownsville and elsewhere, Violett said, preliminary model studies show a big impact.
He said that in a copse of redwood trees along a watershed in Mendocino County owned by his company, they were able to harvest only about 400,000 board-feet of timber, less than a third of what is in the stand.
Under the new regulations, he said, only about 100,000 board-feet more can be harvested.
“Then you have the question, is it worth even harvesting timber in these stands anymore?” he said. “The cost of the operation goes up, and the cost of regulatory permitting goes up.”
Gentry said the regulations aren’t new, but revisions to ones first passed in 2000.
When those initial regulations were passed on a temporary basis, he said, board members wanted a thorough study to update them and make them permanent. The subsequent study included a comprehensive review of riparian functions and habitats, with input from environmental and industry groups, Gentry said.
The final rules, which take effect Jan. 1, limit wood-clearing near what Gentry called “upslope” watersheds such as South Honcut Creek.
They also allow adaptive management, meaning a specific plan can be crafted for each situation with input from state agencies and the local landowner, he said.
Gentry said he would acknowledge restricting timber harvesting is hard on companies like Soper-Wheeler already hurting with the lack of demand for housing lumber.
“We committed three years ago to going down the path of where the science would lead us, and this is where it led to,” he said. He added, the adaptive management approach allows for flexibility to help the logging companies.
But Violett said he believes efforts to restore salmon runs are unfairly targeting his industry.
Since the state first passed forestry management laws in the early 1970s, he said, more regulations have led to greater declines in timber harvesting statewide.
The state now imports 80 percent of its timber, Violett said. Meanwhile, the last Yuba County mill, Sierra Cedar Products, closed last year, he added.
But along with the decline in timber harvests, Violett said, has been a decline in salmon runs, instead of what one might have expected.
“There appears to be an inverse relationship,” he said, noting only 3 percent of salmon that swim downstream eventually return to the head of the rivers. “We really have to look outside of the forest.”
Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter Ben van der Meer at 749-4709 or email@example.com. For more Yuba County news, see Ben’s blog, “Yuba County Insider” at appealdemocrat.com.