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PG&E completes timber harvesting cleanup in Humbug Valley

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Pacific Gas & Electric Co. completes timber cleanup in Humbug Valley on July 26 as a result of the 2012 Chips Fire burning 368 acres of its property. Photos courtesy Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Samantha P. Hawthorne

  Last month Pacific Gas and Electric Co. completed the required chipping and log removal remaining from last year’s controversial Humbug Valley timber harvest.

  The timber harvesting was a result of the 2012 Chips Fire, which burned through 368 acres of PG&E-owned land. The utility company logged 218 acres of that land after obtaining an emergency logging permit.

  Allegations made by the Maidu Summit Consortium that the harvest caused damage to cultural artifacts and protected sites eventually contributed to a decision made by PG&E to suspend further harvesting in that area. Rather than logging the remaining land affected, PG&E decided to only complete work in areas already logged, as required by the emergency logging permit.

  The harvest cleanup was completed July 26, leaving unchipped areas where a site of significance was identified intact. No new trees were felled during the cleanup. PG&E processed trees cut last year and sent other wood debris to either an onsite wood chipper or a biomass generator for further processing.

  “This greatly reduces future fire risk and improves the forest health by reducing the risk of insect infestation and tree diseases, which can harm the healthy forest,” said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno.

  According to Moreno, the company has been working closely with the Maidu throughout its chipping efforts. He said he is “happy to report we have had a good working relationship as we continued the chipping operations. Feedback from them indicated they were pleased with how we performed the work and they appreciated our stepped-up communication before and during the cleanup.”

  No further action will take place until the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council makes a recommendation that land ownership either be transferred to a deserving party or stay with PG&E.

  “Although our preference would be to complete the remaining timber harvest and forest restoration work this year, PG&E agreed to continue the temporary suspension of any new timber harvesting until the Stewardship Council has made a recommendation on potential fee title and conservation easement donees,” said Moreno.

  In 2004, the Stewardship Council was formed as part of the utility company’s bankruptcy settlement agreement. The agreement allows for the council to make recommendations for title transfer of more than 140,000 acres of PG&E-owned land.

  As the original landowners of Humbug Valley, the Maidu are seeking to reclaim the land by earning the council’s recommendation.

  An article at maidusummit.org explained, “Throughout time and regardless of deed ownership, these lands have continued to be important to the Maidu. Now that these lands are under the jurisdiction of (the Stewardship Council) and subject to a change in ownership, the Maidu Summit Consortium knows that it is time to return these lands to Maidu ownership.

  Moreno said that in addition to the Maidu seeking a recommendation, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has also expressed interest in acquiring the land.

  If recommended as a land donee, the Mountain Maidu plan on using traditional ecological knowledge to restore the fire-damaged forest.

  “We want to have a more organic approach to restoration. Maidu people would remove biomass through manpower and distribute it in ways that would benefit the forest. We feel this would be the best way of restoring the area,” said Kenneth Holbrook, a delegate for the Maidu Summit.

  According to Maidu representative Beverly Benner-Ogle, they expect a final recommendation to be made in November. If a recommendation is made to transfer ownership of the Humbug Valley land, Moreno said, “PG&E will work with the donee to develop a long-term plan to complete the forest restoration activities.”

  If a recommendation is not made, Moreno said PG&E would assess its options and continue to consult with the tribe on timber harvest. “Essentially the tribe will still be involved in all harvest operations,” said Moreno.

  “Even though we would prefer to complete the work as planned, we do not believe a suspension will pose a risk to the forest. PG&E will continue to monitor the site for any changes, such as infestation or disease, that would require action to prevent further damage to the remaining forest,” said Moreno.

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