M ore than 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the importance of preserving our nation's natural heritage. He specifically cited the "groves of giant sequoias and redwoods" among an elite list of our nation's most spectacular sites that led him to create the United States Forest Service. He said that, "Our people should see to it that they are all preserved for their children, and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty unmarred."
The North Grove at Calaveras Big Trees State Park was the first grove of giant sequoias ever discovered by a westerner, and it occurred at the height of the Gold Rush. Legend has it that hunter Augustus T. Dowd discovered the North Grove in 1852 while chasing a wounded grizzly bear. Today, you can walk through the pristine North Grove and see the towering trees that are up to 3,000 years old and soar up to 300 feet high.
In 2000, the community of Arnold, just four miles from Big Trees State Park was stunned when Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) announced a timber harvest plan that would use clear-cut logging on 880 acres just outside of town.
A few months later, a watershed moment for environmental activists occurred when over 400 people crowded into nearby Avery Middle School to protest the plan. The people in the Arnold area, the home of the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum, did not assemble to protest logging. They assembled to protest the clear-cut type method of logging. Out of that overwhelming opposition came the Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch.
"Since 1996 in Calaveras County alone, SPI has clear-cut or nearly clear-cut over 24 square miles of important and varied forest habitat," said group's Susan Robinson. "Plans have even included clear-cut type logging within just a few hundred feet of the Big Trees Park border."
John Buckley of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center shared similar concerns, saying the clear-cuts near the park "have hammered the forest ecosystem."
Buckley adds, "Thirty new clear-cut type logging units have recently been proposed for approval, adding to the hundreds of clear-cuts that have already been logged in areas surrounding the park."
Clear-cut logging denudes hillsides and uproots trees, releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. The removal includes most oak trees, which provide important needs for wildlife habitats. The acorn is considered the foundation of the forest food web.
Clear-cut type logging also increases erosion and sediment- runoff which flows into forest streams and rivers. The Sierra Nevada provides 65 percent of California's water supply. In addition, herbicides are applied that prevent the return of native vegetation, in order to convert the site into even-age tree plantations.
Even-age tree plantations do not resemble a diverse natural forest that supports wildlife and native plants. In addition, densely stocked timber plantations of young, even-aged conifers like pines are prone to hotter wildfires than a comparable forest with natural diversity and older trees.
Environmental groups are justifiably concerned about the future of California's diverse forests as more timber harvest plans on private property in the Sierra involve clear-cut logging.
Federal managers of national forests in the Sierra have already switched from clear-cut to selective cutting. Selective logging is also the preferred choice of environmental groups because it leaves much more of the forest ecosystem intact for wildlife, natural diversity and scenic values.
Robinson and Buckley say their groups are working to educate Californians about feasible alternatives.
Mark Luster of Sierra Pacific Industries counters the concerns of environmental groups, saying California's forest industry operates "under the most stringent environmental protection measures in the nation." Those state regulations involve protections for water quality, wildlife habitat, soil, and archaeological sites in the harvests, Luster said.
Assembly Bill 1492 recently took effect which raises the funds needed to restore staffing levels at the California Fish & Wildlife Department, the state agency provides the information needed by State Forestry officials concerning the effects on wildlife from logging operations on private land.
But legislation is needed to phase out clear-cut logging operations, especially near old-growth forests. New laws also should provide science-based guidelines on maintaining forest diversity, reducing wildfires, protecting water quality and wildlife habitats while allowing for profitable logging operations.
President Roosevelt said it best: "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."
Boyd lives in Arnold and works as an educator and property manager. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.