Coast Logging History
by Malcolm Macdonald, April 26, 2017
In 1979 my father sat at the kitchen table in the log house he, my mother, and paternal uncles constructed by hand. He stared in consternation at a four page document that had to be filled out in order to conduct a timber harvest on a portion of the Macdonald ranch. At some point he muttered, “What the sam hill,” which was his euphemistic manner of saying, 'What the hell do I have to fill this out for?'
My father and his father and great uncles before had been chopping or sawing redwood and fir on this piece of property back into the 1800s. In terms of board footage, there is more timber on this place now than there was then. My father and his timber falling ancestors practiced sustained yield logging long before they or anyone else started using that sort of terminology. They thought it common sense.
Don't get me wrong, regulations on timber harvesting can provide a mild deterrent on corporate slaughter of woodlands. I write “mild deterrent” because if a corporate timberland owner is powerful enough they will find the ways and means to turn regulation on its head in a nearly Orwellian fashion despite the fact that those timber harvest plan forms have swelled to doozens, sometimes hundreds, of pages in length. In contemporary times a local purveyor of Orwellian forestry can be found in the family that owns the Gap Inc. along with Mendocino and Humboldt Redwood Companies.
However, for every Sierra Club member who has actually taken the time to truly understand forest practices there are dozens of self-annointed Baby Boomer “progressives” who cringe at the thought of a single redwood or doug fir being felled, while living in houses made from those species. Spelling hypocrisy requires a multiple use of the letter “y,” but hypocrites seldom ask themselves why at the right times.
Most Mendocino County transplants think that protest against over harvesting of timber began with Judi Bari or, if earlier, with the politicization of the Sierra Club in the 1960s. Oh, no, my machiatto-sipping friends. Here's an editorial published in 1879 in the Mendocino newspaper owned and operated by William Heeser.
“There are few subjects on which people are slower to learn from the teachings of experience than in the matter of the destruction of forests. France, Spain, and Italy have suffered seriously from this interference with the natural storage of rainfall; whole districts have been rendered barren which were formerly fertile, owing to the wholesale destruction of trees. In India the wasteful cutting down of timber without proper replacement has largely contributed to those dangerous alternatives of flood and drought, drought and flood, which have so much to do with the occurrences of farming. In some districts the rainfall has decreased not less than thirty percent, during the last twenty-five years, owing it is believed to this cause. In Australia the same effects are being observed, and the result of the demolition of the hill sides, without any attempt whatever at replanting, will be felt more and more as time goes on.
In California and Nevada the same process is bringing about similar climatic changes. The streams which formerly flowed with tolerable equality in winter and summer now have ups and downs which are most injurious, and droughts and floods have commenced in the plains. The snow, instead of melting gradually under the trees, is exposed to the full heat of the sun and rushes down in torrents. It is becoming a serious question how far private individuals have the right to injure the whole community by a wanton destruction of forests. [The] Secretary [of the Interior] Schurz has done well in calling attention to the matter in his annual report, and Congress should give prompt attention to his suggestions in favor of stringent prohibitory legislation for the protection of all public lands.”
Keep in mind that in 1879 the sawmill just east of Big River bridge was the economic lifeblood of the town of Mendocino. Publishing an editorial essentially questioning that same industry took a lot more courage than carrying a banner in the Fourth of July parade.
(No trees were felled to create the author's website: malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.)