Three hundred sixty-eight acres of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. land show evidence of last year’s emergency logging operations in the Humbug Valley. Allegations that the logging destroyed protected Mountain Maidu archeological sites have since put a rift between PG&E and tribal representatives. Photo courtesy Ken Holbrook
Allegations of Native American archeological sites being destroyed by logging operations have caused a rift between members of the Maidu Summit and Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
In mid-April, tribe member Farrell Cunningham took a trip to Humbug Valley only to discover a nearly destroyed Maidu village site, a broken grinding rock, and devastated house pits — all of which he believed to be caused by last year’s logging operations.
In addition to the apparent damage, new archeological materials were discovered adjacent to an existing archeological site. Cunningham said, “Evidence of habitation is all around in the form of obsidian and basalt debitage (chips from production of stone tools) but no action has been taken by PG&E.”
PG&E initiated logging operations in the valley last year after the Chips Fire burned through 368 acres of its 2,325-acre property.
Not long after the fire was controlled, PG&E applied for an emergency timber harvest in order to remove the resulting dead and dying trees from its land.
PG&E external communications representative Paul Moreno said that in order to identify areas of cultural importance, archeologists surveyed the burned area with the help of Maidu surveyor Ben Cunningham.
Moreno said that all archaeological areas discovered as of that time were protected, and no logging occurred within the protected zones.
Kenneth Holbrook, a delegate with the Maidu Summit, said, “The Maidu were hired to do a survey after logging had begun. In fact, we did not even receive our Senate Bill 18 required notification letter until one day after logging commenced.” He said that PG&E acknowledged and apologized for the “unintended oversight.”
Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council board treasurer Mike Schonherr said that since it was an emergency situation, there were much tighter time constraints that prevented more opportunity for communication.
Moreno said it was not the utility’s intention for the Maidu to get the notice late and PG&E has since changed its notification process to avoid future issues. He said that going forward, the Maidu will be notified well in advance of any timber harvesting.
Members of the Maidu Summit have expressed concern over the validity of the logging operations. According to Beverly Ogle, Maidu Summit vice chairperson, Humbug Valley had minimal damage from the fire, and much of the valley is still green.
Holbrook said that he and other members of the Summit believe that PG&E’s real reason for the logging operation is financially motivated.
According to board meeting minutes from the November 2012 Stewardship Council board meeting, Dan McCall, PG&E senior land consultant/forester, explained that “although crowns of trees marked for logging may appear healthy, the determination of tree health is made by examining the tree’s cambium, which is its lifeline to transport water and nutrients from the tree roots to its crown.
“When the cambium is compromised the tree weakens and becomes more susceptible to forest insects,” concluded the meeting summary.
Moreno said, “The timber harvest was to harvest dead or dying trees; we left behind all healthy trees, although in some spots, all trees were damaged.
“We use practicing professional foresters to evaluate damaged trees. We leave healthy trees behind and all trees that have been removed or slated for removal were either dead, or suffered enough fire damage that they will eventually die.”
He said the culling, which concluded in November 2012 as planned, “will improve forest health by reducing the spread of tree diseases and reducing future fire risk.”
Furthermore, he said that the allegations claiming that PG&E caused damage to artifacts and protected sites is incorrect.
“All surveys performed in October 2012 were conducted in a professional and systematic manner. During the course of the timber harvest, there have been no violations or laws broken,” said Moreno.
The site discovered in April contained two large rocks, which Holbrook identified as Indian grinding rocks. He said that they were damaged, as was the area around them. Holbrook could not attest as to whether they were damaged by PG&E.
Following the discovery of the new site, and the allegations that logging equipment broke the rocks and compromised the surrounding area, officials from PG&E and California Department of Forestry and Fire met with Maidu Summit representatives on location April 25.
Moreno said the newly discovered area was around an existing log landing area that was established decades ago. He also indicated it was used by the timber contractor for setting logs and staging equipment last fall.
According to Moreno, this location had never before been identified as an area of cultural importance.
James Nelson, a PG&E-employed archeologist, examined the two stones found and noted that one had a mortar cup depressed within it, and the other was a slab without mortar.
Moreno speculated that the mortar cup may have been uncovered during winter.
Heath Browning, a contracted archeologist hired by PG&E, said, “The slab with the mortar does not appear to be freshly broken, or broken within the last several years.”
Moreno said that the discovery of an adjacent Maidu site indicates that the existing protected site is more extensive than previously documented. This prompted PG&E to expand the existing site and increase its protective boundary to ensure the new discovery will not be damaged in the future.
Moreno stressed the point that “the site was not damaged by timber harvesting operations and PG&E will continue to protect the existing site with the enlarged boundary.”
Not convinced that the mortar rock wasn’t damaged by logging, Holbrook said he feels PG&E did not create an adequate buffer around the adjacent lot in the first place, and had they expanded it, the rock may still be intact.
During an outing to Humbug Valley on May 4, Holbrook and his mother, Ogle, stumbled across an empty 5-gallon oil can. Close by, they found a stream that seemed to have been contaminated with oil.
The Stewardship Council was notified immediately and on Tuesday, May 7, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board completed a water quality analysis on the affected stream. According to Moreno, the analysis tested negative for petroleum product in the stream.
Holbrook said that it is not the intent of the Maidu people to “grind any axes” with PG&E. “My sole interest here is to protect Humbug Valley from any kind of environmental damage,” he said.
He said, “Humbug Valley is our sacred homeland. It is the only one of six major valley areas that remains semi-pristine and unpopulated. It is a very important thing to our family — it is our home away from home.”
Holbrook said that as a show of good faith, he would like to see logging operations cease in the valley because they are “destroying archeologically important properties.” He said the Maidu are working with the Stewardship Council to earn a recommendation that PG&E’s land in Humbug Valley be donated to them, as pursuant to a PG&E bankruptcy agreement in 2004.
The agreement allows for the Stewardship Council to evaluate potential land transfers and/or conservation easements on PG&E watershed lands, and to donate them to groups meeting specific qualifications. Monroe said that since the program was enacted, there have been no land transfers completed.
The Maidu would like to manage the restoration of the forest using traditional ecological knowledge.
“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,” Holbrook said.
Moreno said that long ago, he and PG&E committed to working with the Maidu prior to resuming any logging activities. “The inadvertent discovery in April did not result in a suspension of logging activity. We had already agreed to wait for additional meetings and consultations with tribal representatives.”
He said logging was completed in November, as they had originally planned. According to a press release published Oct. 17, 2012, on plumasnews.com, PG&E’s next plan was to plant seedlings in Humbug Valley to restore the forest. This is expected to begin in spring 2014.
The seedlings are from the same naturally occurring species and the same elevation band as Humbug Valley.
“Replanting of the forest is not required for emergency timber harvesting but we are doing it because we feel it is necessary to be good stewards of the land. We own the land and we are taking care of it,” said Moreno.
Moreno added that PG&E is committed to working with tribe members, and acknowledged that there has been some great participation by tribal representatives in helping them identify concerns and finding ways to work closely together.
Holbrook said, “We would like to really engage PG&E from a management level and enhance communication between them and the Maidu.”
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