Industrial Logging Along The Bald Hills Road

Felice Pace, North Group Water Chair

View from Bald Hills Road into fog-shrouded Redwood Creek.

Extending from US Route 101 just north of Orick to the Klamath River below Weitchpec, Bald Hills Road offers the opportunity to observe industrial logging up close. On one side of the ridge-top road are views of Redwood Creek, including both industrial forests and Redwood National Park lands. The northerly views are industrial forestlands extending nearly to the Klamath River, the Yurok Reservation along the Klamath River and national forest lands beyond, extending to the High Siskiyou Wilderness. 

Whether in the Klamath or Redwood Creek watersheds, industrial logging is typically done by clearcut. However, forests in the Coast Range are of the Mixed Evergreen type which means they contain hardwood species, mainly tanoak and alder, as well as conifers. The hardwoods have no value as sawtimber but when converted to chips they are valuable, including for export from ports at Coos and Humboldt Bays.

These economic realities impact methods used to extract timber from industrial forestlands located in NW California and SW Oregon. If the forest is mostly conifers, the clearcut method is employed. However, if there are a significant number of hardwoods within the stand, the conifers are often cut and removed while leaving the oak and alder standing. The remaining hardwoods are then killed by cutting into the base and injecting a chemical herbicide to kill the tree. This method is referred to as “hack and squirt.” Often those doing the job will also wear backpack spray units which they use in an attempt to kill any shrubs remaining in the clearcut area. The goal is to kill as much vegetation as possible to make way for a new conifer plantation. 

The oak and alder hardwoods are left as standing dead trees for a year or so until they have thoroughly dried. They are then logged and converted to wood chips which are exported or converted in the US into manufactured wood products.

Except for Redwood Park lands and the relatively small amount of land that the Yurok Tribe has purchased, virtually all land on both sides of Bald Hills Road is industrial forest which is managed for maximum profit. On those lands it is economics, not forestry, that determines what gets cut and what gets left behind. 

Cutting the Second Growth

Hardwoods poisoned and left standing by Green Diamond Corporation along Bald Hills Road (photo by Felice Pace).

Most industrial forestlands in the Coast Range and Klamath Mountains were clearcut in the 1980s. The vast majority of the trees logged were large old growth that had never been previously logged. Extremely weak Board of Forestry logging rules allowed the conversion of whole watersheds from Old Growth to industrial tree plantations. Many roads were built on steep unstable slopes. The result was massive erosion and landsliding during major storms, filling the streams with the fine sediment which destroyed salmon habitat. 

These days California Board of Forestry logging rules are much improved, particularly with respect to construction and maintenance of logging roads. However, California still allows logging on landslide terrain. 

Logging of our North Coast second growth forests is now proceeding from the ridges down toward the streams. So far, most second growth logging is up near the ridges. As these clearcuts extend down toward the streams, however, the risk of landsliding will increase dramatically. 

Although multi-day storm events have not occurred in recent years, they will return. When those storms come, we will likely see new landslides where geologically unstable landslide terrain has been clearcut. It is only then that we will be able to judge how well the current logging rules protect water quality, stream ecosystems and salmon. 

Protecting Water Quality

Green Diamond Corporation’s liquidation logging. Terwer Creek watershed in the 1980s (photo by Patrick Higgins) copy.

Here on the North Coast, the North Coast Water Board is responsible for making sure that logging does not degrade water quality. The Board develops and adopts Waste Discharge Permits for public and private forests. Those permits are supposed to protect water quality. But the permits are weak when it comes to landslide terrain; they allow unstable lands to be clearcut and only prohibit logging equipment on active landslides. 

Fortunately, the North Coast Water Board revisits the logging permits every five years or so. That provides an opportunity to pressure the Board to strengthen Clean Water Act permits for national forests and industrial forestlands. Recent appointments to the North Coast Board give hope that we can get the Board to strengthen the rules.

You can find the national forest permit and the industrial forestlands permit at www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/timber_operations/timber_waiver/. Please help strengthen those logging rules by sending a message to the North Coast Water Board Executive Officer Matt St John. Tell E.O. St.John that logging and roads on landslides delivers too much fine sediment to our streams. Ask him to get behind a prohibition on logging and building roads on landslide terrain.  

Here’s the contact information:

Matt St. John, EO
North Coast Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 576-2220
Matt.St.John@waterboards.ca.gov