California: Lots of Logs with Nowhere to Go

This article from a Northern California newspaper highlights a big problem for the state: with just 25 mills, there are few options to processing logs from USFS and other projects, and transportation costs are often prohibitive.

Shortage of local processing centers hampers Camp Fire tree removal

The Camp Fire left a staggering million trees dead or dying — at least — and the logs have almost nowhere to go.

Because Butte County has a dearth of local sawmills and biomass power plants, the high costs of transporting logs hours away is hampering the removal of burned trees. That raises the hazard for those returning to the burn scar: there are at least 400,000 trees at a high risk of falling in Paradise and Magalia, according to a survey by Sierra Timber Services. So local officials are now considering a slate of options to process the trees locally, from restarting a biomass power plant in Oroville to building a wood-powered heating and cooling system in Paradise.

13 thoughts on “California: Lots of Logs with Nowhere to Go”

  1. This seems to be a problem everywhere folks do fuel treatments/have fires. This is an example of where people of all stripes have seen this coming for years and yet we don’t see anything moving forward until it happens. Perhaps burning for energy is a good solution, but why is it that the Euros can burn for power without the pollution being a problem? Is it poor technology on our part? Stricter regulations? Individual companies not being up to snuff?

    • Sharon – “but why is it that the Euros can burn for power without the pollution being a problem?”

      Over here in Sweden they are big on burning garbage for electrical power generation and city heating through a system of steam creation with a massive underground pipe infrastructure to many buildings. I was thinking about this the other day because we have the elaborate recycling system in the garbage stations where numerous containers are labeled cardboard, paper, plastic, general garbage, dark glass, clear glass and metals. The funny thing is plastic is never recycled, it’s burned within the energy system, same as paper, cardboard and general refuse. Here in my new city of Helsingborg, most of my neighbours are middleeastern immigrants and they still through anything in any bin they want. Given the way various garbage ends up in the incinerator anyway, I suppose it doesn’t matter. When they started all this years ago, they had under covers green police who would cite you for throwing the wrong item in the incorrect container. That program ran out of money, but in the end it doesn’t matter if they burn it all anyway, with the exception of metals and glass. The only thing beneficial is that they do get energy created and there are no landfills here. Great!

      Except while these incinerators have no real particulates visibly being pumped out into the air that one can see, they do pump out tonnes of those evil CO2s which no one here wishes to discuss. Here is a short documentary on that.

      Sharon – “Is it poor technology on our part? Stricter regulations?”

      Don’t ask me why, but the eco-green groups over here give these governments of the E.U. a free pass on a lot of things, not everything, but a lot. The more radical elements over there clearly refuse and are not open to discussion or common sense. Everything there is about political power and donations and/or lawsuit winnings, nature takes third row.

        • Matthew, I was asking about the people in, and governments of, those countries themselves, not what the Dogwood Alliance thinks. With all due respect to the Dogwood Alliance, those countries have scientists as smart as ours and governments as legitimate as ours. I was wondering how they think about it.

          • Ok, fair enough Sharon. Here’s an example of what some people in Europe think. It’s a detailed report from Fern, an EU-based NGO.

            Up in Flames: How biomass burning wrecks Europe’s forests.

            Fern describes itself as:

            “an organisation based in the heart of the EU, dedicated to protecting forests and the rights of people who depend on them. We make decisions by consensus and build campaigns together with social and environmental organisations and movements across the world. We identify the threats facing the world’s forests, and work with affected peoples, social and environmental organisations and policy makers to devise and deliver solutions where the EU can make a difference.”

            Fern seeks a world in which environmental, social and economic justice is fully integrated at all levels and people have a voice in decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods.

            Fern’s mission is to achieve greater environmental and social justice, focusing on forests and forest peoples’ rights in the policies and practices of the European Union.

            • My question was not “does everyone in Euro agree with the Euro’s policies around biomass.”
              My question was about the cultural and technological differences that make it OK (in terms of they are actually doing it) to do there, but not in California.

      • “Don’t ask me why, but the eco-green groups over here give these governments of the E.U. a free pass on a lot of things, not everything, but a lot.”

        I can think of two reasons: 1) being part of the government; and, 2) getting money from the government.

  2. I see that the American Forest Resource Council’s “Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities” posted this same article the other day on their FB page. Here’s what they said about it:

    Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities
    September 6 at 6:01 PM ·

    California lost 75 percent of its sawmills due to the lack of timber harvests on national forests. Now catastrophic wildfires- due to the lack of forest management- have left millions of dead and dying trees with few places to take them.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this would be much more accurate:

    California lost 75 percent of its sawmills due to the unsustainable logging of private and public lands, global economic forces, softwood lumber imports from Canada thanks to NAFTA, the great recession, the unsustainable housing bubble bursting and consolidation within the timber industry. Now wildfires – driven by record-breaking drought, record-breaking high temperatures and high winds (and started by the negligence of PG&E) – have left millions of dead and dying trees with few places to take them.

    P.S. I’ve posted these before, but this is how Sierra Pacific Industry has treated their own private lands in the area directly adjacent to the Camp Fire.


    This is land owned – and clearcut – by Sierra Pacific Industries. It is located approximately 15 miles north of the town of Paradise, California. The 2018 Camp Fire did not make it this far north.


    These clearcuts on Sierra Pacific Industries’ lands sit about 25 miles north of Paradise, CA.

  3. Using the material locally for a heating and cooling plant sounds like a good idea. Very foolish to truck wood a long way to a mill and add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere! Climate change is definitely part of our forest management challenges now and it makes no sense to exacerbate the problem by long distance hauling.

    RE: Kevin Frank’s comment – Air quality regulations help save and improve people’s lives and health. While some of them may be the result of lawsuits they’re definitely worth having.
    Our engineers are certainly smart enough to solve the problem of particulate emissions and hopefully that challenge is high on their priority list.

  4. The average mill in 1990 processed 40 million board feet per year. The average mill in 2017 processes 100 million board feet per year.

    There are fewer mills, but each mill has larger capacity and employs fewer workers, because that’s the way of capitalism – efficiency in terms of lower unit costs is far more important than supporting individual local communities or markets. That has nothing to with decisions made by the Forest Service, and everything to do with broader trends in business and capitalism.

    • Here are a few of the findings from “California’s Forest Products Industry and Timber Harvest, 2012,” USFS, Oct. 2015:

      * A total of 77 primary forest products facilities operated in California during 2012. These included 30 sawmills, 26 bioenergy plants, 11 bark and mulch facilities, 2 veneer plants, and 8 manufacturers of other primary wood products.

      * California’s timber harvest was 1,425 million board feet (MMBF) Scribner in 2012, representing an 18 percent decline since 2006. Over 55 percent (785 MMBF) of the timber harvest came from five counties. For the first time since 1968, Shasta County provided the largest proportion at 16 percent (229 MMBF), followed by Humboldt County with a timber harvest of 215 MMBF.

      * Eighty-three percent of California’s 2012 timber harvest came from private lands, 14 percent came from national forests, and the remaining 3 percent came from other public sources. Nearly all (97 percent) of the timber harvested in California was processed within the state.

      * Over half of the 360 million cubic feet (MMCF) of wood fiber (excluding bark) harvested in California in 2012 was used to generate energy, usually in the form of heat for steam or electricity. Another 32 percent of the volume became lumber, and the remaining 16 percent was used as raw material for a variety of other products.

      * California’s forest products industry’s annual capacity to process sawtimber has decreased by more than 70 percent, from 6 billion board feet Scribner in the late 1980s to 1.8 billion board feet in 2012. Of this total capacity, 72 percent was utilized in 2012.


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