Make a sound when forest trees fall

Sharon Fritsch is a 20-year resident of Chico, a member of the local Sierra Club and a supporter of Butte Environmental Council.

In 2002 I took a bicycle ride down a dirt road on Carpenter Ridge, southwest of Butte Meadows. I found myself riding through alternating zones of beautiful coniferous forest and zones of clear-cut, approximately 20 acres in size, that were devoid of all vegetation.

This is “single-age forestry.” After cutting down all the trees, the land is treated with herbicide and later replanted with a single species. Although the timber industry claims that clear-cutting reduces the risk of fire—obviously, if there is nothing to burn there can be no fire—single-species, same-age forestry in fact has a high fire risk for the first 10 to 15 years after replanting. The odds are high that if one tree in the 20 acres catches fire, they will all catch fire, since their branches are all at the same level and the trees are close enough to touch each other. The fire risk remains high until the trees get big enough that the lower branches can be trimmed off.

During the time that the land is completely devoid of vegetation, the erosion risk is high. Although there are regulations preventing clear-cutting on steep slopes, I have seen clear-cut areas on steep slopes where gullies have eroded.

Also, the timeliness of replanting is apparently not guaranteed by current legislation. There are clear-cut areas in the Big Chico Creek watershed that have not been replanted for more than three years now. Some Sierra Club members living in the south San Joaquin Valley are especially stressed about the fact that 38,000 acres destined for clear-cutting are near Oroville Dam, which they depend on for their water. The possibility of much of their water supply being contaminated with sediment and herbicides does not sit well with them.

Eventually, Sierra Pacific Industries plans to clear-cut some 1.2 million acres of California’s forests, an area larger than Yosemite National Park. According to Mark Hertsgaard, writing for, SPI has been clear-cutting about 24,000 acres a year, which represents a 24-fold increase over the past decade.

Many people mistakenly believe that this destructive practice has been outlawed in California. In 2000, environmentalists did try to pass a bill making clear-cutting illegal, but the state Legislature adjourned for the year before debating the bill. Meanwhile, in the wake of large campaign contributions by the logging industry, then-Gov. Gray Davis made several appointments to the Board of Forestry that delighted the logging industry, including a timber lobbyist and two executives.

Ebbets Pass Forest Watch has renewed its Stop Clearcutting California (SCC) Campaign. To find more information and help with the campaign, check out