Wildfires on the Groveland Ranger District

For over 40 years, I have watched the Yosemite area suffer large wildfires, losing most of its historic old growth. In 1971, I went to the Cherry Lake area, on a junior high field trip, to see forestry in action, on the old Granite Fire. In 1990, I helped lay out salvage cutting units in the A-Rock Fire. There is no doubt that California Indians meticulously managed their domains, including Yosemite Valley. Their ideal landscapes were composed of large, fire-resistant pines, canopies of California Black Oaks and a thick carpet of flammable bear clover. Their skills and knowledge resulted in the majestic pine forests that used to populate the area of the Groveland Ranger District, of the Stanislaus National Forest. This roughly-mapped view shows how large modern fires have decimated the area. Notice that the Granite Fire has been completely re-burned. Whether they are lightning strikes or human-caused wildfires, they are not like the pre-settlement fires ignited by the Indian wise men.


Historically, this area had awesome old growth forests that survived the extremes in terrain and climate. Below is a view of a part of the Rim Fire that I worked on in 2000. I personally flagged most of these units, enduring thick manzanita and whitethorn. In browsing around, I could see that the project was just finished, when Google collected their images. Landing piles have been burned and the large plantation thinnings were completed. You can see the brushy areas that were left “to recover on their own”, as concessions to wildlife. Fire crews appear to have initiated burnout operations along the road on the right side of the picture. You can also see a patch of private ground. There also appears to be some unthinned plantation on Forest Service land there, as well. There should be some great opportunities to compare treatments. 


It is clear that we need to learn how to grow “all-aged” forests, which are also as fire resistant as they can be. The Tuolumne River canyon will continue to do as it always has. It will burn, despite what humans do. However, I believe we can act to contain fires to the canyon, for the most part.


7 thoughts on “Wildfires on the Groveland Ranger District”

  1. Larry, What a pleasure, and how instructive, to see the results of planned action (not philosophical commentary) and to hear common-sense advice from one who has “been there and done that”. Let those who would “let nature take her course” look, read, and ponder.

  2. Larry: Who owns the rectangular block on the center bottom of the lower photograph? One of my main problems with clearcutting is that it follows straight property lines that don’t conform to the topography, and thus create several problems anti-logging advocates complain about regarding road locations, erosion, and (mostly) aesthetics. In my opinion.

    • There are some checker-boarded chunks of Sierra Pacific land, down there but, that section looks more like a ranch. This entire area in the lower picture was burned in the Granite Fire, and salvage logged, leaving a few snags per unit. I’m guessing that some of the brushfields were brushy, even before the Granite Fire. In the area of the 1987 Complex, there were some fantastic sugar pine stands, with many trees over 12 foot dbh. Another thing not reported in most news stories is that both Cherry Lake and Lake Eleanor are also parts of San Francisco’s water supply system. Additionally, cities like Modesto depend on the water coming from the Tuolumne River watershed.

  3. Excellent post Larry. I figured those “thinned” areas west of Cherry lake was where you worked. I wonder if any “commercial” products came from them(pulp small dia.saw)…or all PCT. See some skid trails. Wonder about slash…and if it has had time to rot…or if it was removed….looks pretty clean. RX burned? Were these plantations the result of re-planting after Granite fire? So They’d be 40 years old. What kinda annual precip. up there? Can’t wait for “post fire” Google (hope I don’t wait two years).

    Bob…I’m guessing, as Larry said earlier, that the “private” is Sierra Pacific(well, the block in Larry’s lower photo looks like some rancher…but the “clearcut blocks look like SPI). They had some photos of fire line construction on their “Facebook” page. I’ll be curious how their land fares…but it looks like their land didn’t fare to well in last years “Ponderosa fire” east of Redding. They’re not in the business of “restoration,” they’re in the business of Max growth…which also means they won’t “thin” their forest for wildfire prevention. I had a USFS forester tell me awhile back, when touring a WUI thinning unit, because I, of all people, was shocked at the large tree spacing, that, “If I only wanted to get maximum stocking for maximum tree growth we would have thinned it to a 15′ spacing, but we’ve found that for wildfire we need a 25′ spacing.” (When your used to 15′, 25′ looks big-but I’m totally at peace with it now-LOL) Their clearcuts also look “planted” with decent spacing…which might negate the clearcuts burn thing.

    I know you don’t have much time for “Industrial logging” Larry…but if it weren’t for the SPI’s and the Weyerhausers…I doubt we’d have much wood in our lives. I owned Weyerhauser back in 1995, and they had a chart that showed their “sustained yield” curve going up by 2010 because of their “intensive management.” When the USFS crashed and went from supplying 20% of the country’s timber to 5%, I’m thinking that the Industrial guys picked up a third of that, with Canada gladly stepping in for the rest.

    Pinchot floated a plan way back when to “regulate” all Private forests and manage them like the USFS…which would have interesting ramifications today. Just perhaps…if private lands were strangled like USFS lands…maybe the ESA would have been amended by now just to get timber! LOL.

    • I’m very sure that there were some merchantable logs coming out of there. The plantations were over 30 years old. I do think that timber companies would like their holdings to “put on some value”, as they get older than maybe the traditional small log harvest size. SPI has extensive holdings in older plantations they acquired from the companies they bought out and absorbed. SPI knows they can endure the lack of harvesting on Federal lands, waiting until the pendulum makes a move. In my area, SPI has a monopoly on Forest Service timber. That happened when timber targets dropped to 1/30th of 1988 levels. It is currently at 1/13th of those 1988 levels, cutting smaller trees, over more acres.

      Edit: Usually, there is whole tree yarding, with big slash piles at the landing. These small trees don’t have that many limbs. I’m sure they haven’t done any burning yet. Like in many places, they don’t do enough prescribed burning. I blame long fire seasons, liability and “no-burn days”.

    • When I worked on the Fremont in the early 80’s Weyco was trying to introduce “intensive management” to the Bly (Oregon) area; I don’t know what their economists were thinking at the time. Maybe they had a model… 😉

      I also remember a timber review on the Winema where folks from OSU told us the latest science was to have larger clearcuts, and that would be more economically efficient. It’s interesting what scientific disciplines come in and out of vogue.

    • Derek: Just to be clear — “when Canada gladly stepped in,” it was with Weyerhaeuser timber products. The spotted hoot owl is the best thing to happen to industrial forestland owners (“stockholders”) since WW II.


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