Too Many Logs With Nowhere To Go in California- WSJ article

Logged trees pile up at a salvage logging operation in Magalia.

Here’s a link to the Wall Street Journal article. Below are excerpts.

Paul Moreno, a spokesman for PG&E, called the stacks “temporary log-staging areas” that are part of the normal transportation chain. The utility, he added, is educating some contractors who mistakenly piled the logs in fields where they don’t belong.

George Gentry, senior vice president of the California Forestry Council trade group, said the biggest threat posed by the log decks is the insects they may attract. The insects may go on to attack surrounding trees, which would dry them out and make them more flammable. “You really don’t want to leave big stacks of logs around your community,” Mr. Gentry said.

The recent logging is part of an effort to remove an estimated 300,000 highly flammable dead and dying trees in Butte County, which remains at high risk of another catastrophic inferno, according to local officials…

Mark Wilson was hired by a contractor that works for PG&E to cut down trees around Paradise, located 90 miles north of Sacramento. One morning last week, he unloaded freshly cut timber from the back of his flatbed trailer in a field just outside Paradise filled with hundreds of similarly discarded logs. He said he had no other options.

“The mills are full, so we have to take the wood here,” Mr. Wilson said as his white pickup truck idled.

According to federal data, there are only 25 sawmills in California, down from more than 100 in the 1980s, due in large part to curtailed logging in national forests over environmental concerns. The number of biomass plants, another option for disposing of trees, has fallen to about two dozen from 66 in the 1990s, in part due to the expiration of government price subsidies, according to the California Energy Commission.

Most remaining sawmills are running at capacity, and owners are reluctant to expand due to fears that demand won’t stay high beyond the current glut, said Rich Gordon, chief executive of the California Forestry Association, a timber trade group.

“It’s the Achilles’ heel of the whole situation,” said Calli-Jane DeAnda, executive director of the Butte County Fire Safe Council, a nonprofit group. “We can write grants to get rid of these trees, but where do you put them?”

9 thoughts on “Too Many Logs With Nowhere To Go in California- WSJ article”

  1. A number of questionable statements:
    “the biggest threat posed by the log decks is the insects they may attract.” I don’t think research has shown that dead trees attract bark beetles, and it doesn’t even make sense that the kind of bark beetles that bore into live trees would be attracted by dead trees.

    “highly flammable dead and dying trees”: Trees that are dead are not necessarily more flammable than live trees. Maybe during the same calendar year when they still have needles, but once they drop needles there are less fine fuels and less flammable oil/resins. The water content of drought stressed trees can drop into the single digits, so the extra drying that occurs after the tree dies isn’t really significant.

    “The mills are full, so we have to take the wood here” This article assumes that wood has to be processed in mills or in biomass plants. Another option is to just burn the piles. CA was using air curtain burners to dispose of excess biomass (less particulate emissions than old-fashioned burn piles) but I don’t know if that program ever expanded due to concerns about “wasting” the wood and unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. Burn piles are used on forests throughout the West, but if they were going to do that it was probably unnecessary to haul the wood.

    • FWIW, I wanted to clarify my first comment: Completely dead trees do not attract bark beetles. Freshly cut green wood can attract beetles due to the release of volatile terpene compounds, but once trees are dead for a couple of years these compounds are no longer present in sufficient concentrations.

      Also, if the trees are already-infested then these piles could transport or serve as refuges for those beetles. But I don’t think they would attract new beetles to create a new infestation.

      • Cambium scorch and bark beetles can both finish off a tree that is on the edge. Trees can take up to 5 years to finally die off. On big fires, bark beetles often produce a ‘bloom’, finding plenty of perfect habitat. On salvage sales, a significant amount of timber volume is cut from trees which survived the fire, but didn’t survive the next year.

      • Conor, (1) I am definitely not an expert, but I have read that bark beetles populations can build up in dead trees/piles and attack living trees.

        (2) You said ” “highly flammable dead and dying trees”: Trees that are dead are not necessarily more flammable than live trees. ” But dead trees dry out every year and are ultimately drier and burn better. That’s why people dry firewood before they use it. I’m not sure what you’re saying here.

        (3) burning piles is certainly what people do. Some locations have too many remaining live trees or too much fuel (would damage soil) to do it onsite. But many people think that if it were possible to use this material in some way, possibly even to make money, without the particulates and carbon release (and risk of fire getting out of control) and money spent tending the burn piles and so on, that that would be a good thing.

        • Larry,
          I’ve also observed large numbers of bark beetles post-fire. Your point about trees surviving the fire but succumbing years later could explain the concern about bark beetles in piles: they could be harvesting trees that have recently died.

          (1) Bark beetles would only be attracted to piles if they still contain green cambrium/phloem, which I have read is up to 1 year after tree death. Based on Larry’s observation, the quote would make sense if the trees have recently died or were in decline. I had assumed that these were trees that had been dead longer than 1 year.

          (2) I think the idea that dead trees burn more readily than live trees is one of the most common misconceptions in forest management. The basic idea is that fine fuels (needles) decrease in the canopy following tree death. This paper discusses in more detail: Bark Beetle Outbreaks in Western North America: Causes and Consequences. 2005. And here is a graph:

          • The time between when the dead needles fall off and when the tree falls to the ground is often not very long. In fact, such snags often fall over during the next re-burn. We do know the damage that piles of jack-strawed dead tree trunks cause when they burn to a crisp. This is especially critical in dry granitic soils.

            Regarding the piles, they supply very little to bark beetle populations in comparison to the trees still standing, and clinging to life.

  2. Sierra-Pacific Industries low-balled; through leveraged buy-outs, more than a million acres of forest land in California and subsequently laid-off well-paying union millworkers. “Sawmills were the company’s first enterprise. Originally called R.H. Emerson & Son, Sierra Pacific Industries was started in the 1920s by a man whose descendants are still at the helm. Its expansion into land owning accelerated in the 1980s and ’90s when it paid $660 million for almost a million acres of timberland throughout Northern California. Sierra Pacific Industries owns nearly 2 percent of the state’s land, making it a major player in any consideration of the state’s environmental future.”

  3. I’m have trouble finding a logging contractor with a self loader to haul away the large trees that I had cut down and are now ready for pick up. I called Wheelabrator in Anderson, CA and they are accepting campfire logs for there co-gen plant.
    Does anyone have a contractor they could refer to pick up logs from my property.
    All the logs have been skidded to the road edge.
    Or a firewood processor that could come and process it into fire wood.



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