Reckless logging will increase wildfire risk for mountain towns
Reckless Logging Will Increase Wildfire Risk for Mountain Towns
By Karen Maki, Jeff Stone, and Raven Stevens for We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review
Over four million acres burned in California in 2020. Despite this unprecedented climate disaster, CalFire is poised to increase future wildfire risk for residents of Dunsmuir, Mt. Shasta City, McCloud and Castella by approving the Soda Springs Timber Harvest Plan (THP), which would use an unnecessarily dangerous even-aged logging method, similar to clearcutting.
Changes to Forest Management Will Reduce Wildfire Risk
California officials and state agencies have repeatedly called for additional thinning to remove underbrush and small trees to reduce wildfire risk, but they do nothing to stop logging plans that create the same dense small trees. The Soda Springs THP is especially dangerous because it is so close to towns, and hence will expose residents to increased fire danger. One may remember that the 2018 Carr and Delta Fires that threatened these same towns burned through plantations.
Shasta-Cascade Timberlands, the Australian multinational timber company that owns the land, is prioritizing the short-term economic benefits of clearcutting over the potentially devastating effects on local communities. (https://newforests.com.au/new-forests-to-acquire-california-timberlands-from-roseburg-resources/)
More and Less Safe Types of Forest Management
There are two main categories of logging practiced in California: even-aged management and uneven-aged management.
After clearcutting or other forms of even-aged management harvest, a same-age and typically same-species conifer plantation is established. These plantations of dense young trees are easily ignited, and once ignited, burn fast and hot. Their temperature is often hotter than nearby diverse, shaded forests, and there are no large trees to break wind speed. The recent Bear and Creek Fires were made more dangerous by the plantations in their path, and the worst fire in California history, the Paradise Camp Fire, also burned through plantations that were established after a fire that occurred ten years previously.
Uneven-aged management is less risky and significantly more sustainable than clearcutting or other kinds of even-aged management. For example, with single tree selection, individual trees are targeted for harvest, but different ages and species of trees will remain, and plantations are avoided. With a group selection harvest, only 2.5-acre areas are cleared and plantations installed. Unlike even-aged management, uneven-aged management, produces a forest of trees many sizes, ages, and species, which are less vulnerable to fire.
Dangers of Proposed Soda Springs Timber Harvest Plan
CalFire and other state agencies are currently considering approving the Soda Springs Timber Harvest Plan. The proposed logging site is 0.5-1.25 miles from Dunsmuir. This town and nearby Mt. Shasta City, McCloud, and Castella are on the edge of wilderness near Mt. Shasta in northern California. The Soda Springs THP includes 128 acres of near clearcuts, and will result in same-age, same-species tree plantations, which will increase fire risk for nearby towns in an already high fire risk area. Embers from a wildfire can easily be blown two miles to nearby towns, especially if the weather is hot and the winds strong, conditions we are seeing with increasing frequency.
Instead of clearcutting, the Soda Springs Timber Harvest Plan should deploy selection logging, by which some old trees are removed and some are left behind, with the goal of retaining a canopy of 60%. Such a harvest would help to ensure that the remaining forest maintains a diversified forest structure with more, older, fire-resistant trees, higher humidity, and lower temperatures, keeping it less vulnerable to wildfire than a plantation.
The Bottom Line
Given the increasing impacts of climate breakdown, which were so evident during the 2020 fire season, any project that installs tree plantations - especially near vulnerable communities - must be opposed.
Homeowners are being asked to change where they build, use non-flammable building materials, and maintain 100 feet of defensible space, and even so are facing the loss of their home insurance policies. Shouldn’t the timber industry take some responsibility for not putting the public and other forest owners at risk? Shouldn’t CalFire protect the public’s safety and require any approved logging projects to decrease fire risk to nearby communities?
What You Can Do
Please contact CalFire at email@example.com and ask them to deny the Soda Springs THP. This sample letter will help you get started: Soda Springs Comment Template
You can also email Dunsmuir’s mayor, Mathew Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or John Redmond, Mayor of Mt. Shasta at email@example.com to ask them to take this issue up at the next City Council meeting.