One of those timber mills was in the little town of Auberry, California.
By: Cathy Wilson
The mill was the heart and soul of Auberry for many years. The mill, along with the timber industry, provided good paying jobs and a tax base for the community. The Sierra Unified School District was one of the richest school districts in California with excellent educational facilities. The thriving community also had churches, a bank, a hardware store, a gas station, good restaurants and contented people. “A good place to raise a family,” explained Amanda Arteno, a longtime resident of Auberry.
Then disaster struck and, little by little, the hundreds of timber mills in the Sierra National Forest began to shut down.
Why? The spotted owl
As a result of the spotted owl’s being placed on the federal Endangered Species List in 1990, severe restrictions were placed on the cutting of trees on millions of acres in the region’s national forests. The listing of the owl under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) devastated timberdependent communities throughout the region and, as it turns out, inflicted enormous ecological harm on the region’s forests. Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.
Mountain residents talk about the jobs that were lost, businesses shuttered, schools closed and the many people who moved out of the community. Those who stayed remember the alcoholism, suicides, and divorces that resulted from the decline of the community’s economy. People were actually buying wood from Canada.
The forests became overgrown, actual tinderboxes that threaten wildlife, local residents, firefighters, not to mention many of the very trees – and owls —†the ESA listing was supposed to protect. The resulting Creek Fire not only destroyed the owl’s habitat, but did great damage to the air and water supply.
Many Auberry residents blame the catastrophic fires on the loss of the Timber Industry. Previous to the shutdowns, the loggers:
1.Thinned the forest
2.They cleaned up the debris on the forest floor.
3.They planted trees where needed.
4.They kept open the many forest roads needed for law enforcement, rescue operation, and firefighting. The fires that did pop up were extinguished quickly because the roads made them more accessible.
In 2014, Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed a Resolution requesting a state of emergency due to degraded forest conditions and imminent fire danger. The danger was evident and the people were aware. Since then, some progress was made to restore the forests, for example around Huntington Lake between Lakeshore and Cedar Crest a great deal of thinning was accomplished. And that area was saved from the fire.
The good news is much of the forest is intact and still beautiful. We need to double our efforts to save it. Should we continue with poor management? No
So what needs to be done?
The forest belongs to the people of Fresno County, not the Federal G o v e r n m e n t . Consequently, our Board of Supervisors must take over the management of the forest. Plus, our county could certainly use the tax revenue from the logging, recreation, and other business revenue.
It has already been done successfully! Apache County, Arizona took over the management of their forest. What happened? The forest was thinned, mills were opened, jobs were created and the beautiful forest was saved from catastrophic fire.
Please get it done. Log it or watch it burn.
Thank you to the many mountain residents for taking time to be interviewed for this article.