In some places in the Sierra, current timber growth potential is lower than would be expected due to past harvesting and wildfire suppression efforts. In many stands, the practice of “high-grading,” or removing most of the valuable pines and larger trees, has led to reduced stand vigor. This, coupled with fire suppression efforts, has caused the composition of trees in many stands to shift to less economically valuable species, such as white fir and incense cedar.
Throughout the Sierra and other regions of California, net annual timber growth exceeds annual harvest on both public and private lands. On private land in the Sacramento Resource Area, which includes Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lake, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Tehama, Yolo, and Yuba counties, from 1984 to 1994, growth was approximately one and a half times as high as harvest. In the northern interior region, the growth rate jumped to almost double that of the harvest rate for the same time period.
Various explanations for this include the growing public concern over clear cutting and other practices that yield higher harvest rates than growth rates. In some areas, fire suppression has also played a role by leading to increased density in certain forest stands.
Various social and economic changes beginning in the 1970s have affected the timber industry. With increased concern over the impacts of timber harvesting and recognition of the need to maintain certain forestlands for other uses, overall timber harvest on public and private land has fluctuated substantially over the last 25 years.
Harvest volumes on California’s public timberlands, most of which are located in the Sierra or on the North Coast, have been on a steady decline since 1988. At the peak in 1988, 2 billion board feet of timber was harvested from public land; by 2002, the public timberland harvest had dropped to less than 200 million board feet. Private land harvest levels have been somewhat more stable, with a recent peak of approximately 2.8 billion board feet in 1990 down to about 1.5 billion board feet in 2002.
As harvest levels have decreased, a corresponding decrease of lumber mills in the state has occurred from nearly 100 in 1988 to fewer than 40 in 2002. Timber employment has also suffered as the remaining mills have reduced their operating hours and upgraded to equipment that requires fewer operators. Since the timber industry was once such a large contributor to their economies, the rural counties of the Sierra region have been especially hard-hit by this trend.
Download data for timber harvest 1994 to 2005
While California’s harvest levels have gone down, demand for wood products continues to rise. We now import much of our paper, pulp and so-called “structure wood products” from other states and even other countries. With a statewide lumber demand estimated by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to be greater than 10 billion board feet, California imported about 80% of its wood in 2002. As recently as 1990, the import rate was less than 50%.
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