Sierra Club: Logging in Winter: Can Water Quality be Protected?

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Logging in Winter: Can Water Quality be Protected? 

Green Diamond Resources (formerly Simpson Timber) logging along the Bald Hills. Conditions quickly change from dry to wet in the North Coast and Klamath regions. Loggers do not end operations as quickly. Photo: Felice Pace.
Green Diamond Resources (formerly Simpson Timber) logging along the Bald Hills. Conditions quickly change from dry to wet in the North Coast and Klamath regions. Loggers do not end operations as quickly. Photo: Felice Pace.

When I first began paying attention to logging in Northern California back in the late 1970s, operations (often called “shows” by the loggers) were completely shut down during winter. That was true whether the land in question was public land or privately controlled. Loggers put away their chainsaws, parked their logging trucks, went on unemployment, and spent the winter fishing for salmon and steelhead. What was known as “the normal operating period” extended from April 1 through October 30, when conditions were dry, to protect water quality.

Things began to change with the Great California Drought of 1977—the year the rains simply did not come. Since the land stayed dry, timber interests began arguing that they should be allowed to log during the “extended dry periods” that sometimes occur at the beginning of the normal rainy season. Forest Service managers and Water Board regulators agreed and began approving logging during these winter “extended dry periods.” Conservationists and clean water advocates did not object at the time—after all, those periods were truly dry.

But the timber industry now had a foot in the door and their representatives have continued to chip away at rules preventing logging during wet weather. Little by little, these timber industry lobbyists convinced the water boards to further loosen logging rules. As a result, logging now stops only when there are successive days with an inch or more of precipitation, and logging resumes soon after big rainstorms end.

Because conditions on the North Coast can and do change quickly from dry to wet, the current North Coast Water Board logging rules sometimes result in logging and log hauling taking place during wet conditions. According to the scientists who have studied North Coast logging for decades, hauling logs in wet weather results in significant amounts of fine sediment being delivered to streams where it smothers salmon and steelhead eggs, preventing many eggs from hatching.

As early as the 1980s, empirical studies by Leslie Reid and Tom Dunne found that hauling logs during wet conditions delivers significant amounts of fine sediment to streamcourses—even when those roads have been covered with gravel. The Reid and Dunne road studies are part of long-term research by Forest Service scientists and others examining logging and its impacts within the North Coast’s Caspar Creek Watershed.

Logging in the mud

This winter, post-fire salvage logging continues in the Horse and Seiad Creek tributaries of the Klamath National Forest. These watersheds have experienced forest fires in recent years but those impacts have not stopped Forest Service managers from proposing—and North Coast clean water regulators from approving—logging and road reconstruction during the winter wet season.

North Coast Water Board approval of winter logging and wet-season road work for the Low Gap and Copper timber sales is based on Forest Service proposals to upgrade what it calls “legacy sediment sites” along logging roads within the timber sale area. These upgrades to larger culverts and road dips, rather than healing sediment sites, instead make it feasible for logging and log hauling to proceed during wet weather. This, as clearly indicated by the Reid and Dunn road studies, will result in fine, salmon-killing sediment being delivered to Klamath River salmon streams.

Take Action: Public comments are accepted until 5:00 p.m. on February 4, 2019 on a permit for private land logging along the North Coast and within the California portion of the Klamath River Basin that is up for renewal. Send a message to North Coast Water Board Executive Officer Matt St. John to comment on the proposed “Short-Term Renewal of Categorical Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges Related to Timber Harvest Activities on Non-Federal Lands in the North Coast Region.” Tell St. John that current rules for private and public land logging are not adequately protecting water quality. Suggest that the renewed permit prohibit log hauling between October 30 and April 1 and only allow logging operations when there is a truly extended dry period lasting at least a week.

Comments can be sent to Mr. St. John at this email address: Please send a copy of your email to this author at as well.



One need not be a Sierra Club member to participate in these outings. Please join us!

Saturday, February 9—North Group Dry Lagoon-Stone Lagoon Hike. A hike north along the beach, then turn inland past a variety of dense vegetation to the Stone Lagoon boat-in State Park campground, and return. Bring lunch. No dogs. Medium difficulty, 5 miles, less than 1000 ft. elevation change. Carpools: Meet 9 a.m. Ray’s shopping center in Valley West, or trailhead 10 a.m. Dry Lagoon Day Use Area on Highway 101. Leader Ned,, 707-825-3652. Heavy rain cancels.

Saturday, March 9—North Group Arcata Community Forest Fickle Hill-Diamond Dr. Hike. Join us for a spring stroll through the redwoods. Thrushes, trilliums, milkmaids and more. No dogs. Easy hike, 5 miles, less than 1000 ft. elevation change. Meet 9 a.m. at Arcata Safeway parking lot, or Fickle Hill parking area at 9:20. Leader Ned,, 707-825-3652.


Please Join Us!

The North Group’s Executive Committee meets on the second Tuesday of each month in the first floor conference room at the Adorni Center on the waterfront in Eureka.  The meeting, which covers regular business and conservation issues, begins at 6:45 PM. Members and non-members with environmental concerns are encouraged to attend. When a new person comes to us with an environmental issue or concern, we often place them first or early on the agenda.