State of Elk River—Cumulative Impacts, Contemporary Challenges
Source: Lost Coast Outpost. According to local Angela Tellez who took the photo, “It floods like this at least once a year, though this year this is the third time it’s flooded this much. It’s from the hole in the Headwaters, all the logging over here and it’s getting worse every year.”
It is said that those whom forget history are doomed to repeat it. When it comes to the Elk River watershed, located just south of Eureka, in Humboldt County, California, perhaps the saying should read “those whom forget history are doomed to exacerbate its effects.”
Over 150 years of intensive forestland management in the Elk River watershed have profoundly changed the landscape, and left behind a legacy that continues to confound contemporary forest policy debate. The Elk River watershed has long been a focal point of EPIC’s advocacy efforts. While much of this effort has been focused on preserving the remaining old-growth of Headwaters Forest, the solutions to recovering the forest, watershed, and wildlife are much less clear.
There can be little debate that forest management practices in Elk River have improved dramatically over the last several decades. In particular, forest management has significantly improved on the former Pacific Lumber Company Lands, now owned by Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC). HRC serves as a stark contrast to the intensive liquidation logging conducted in Elk River by Pacific Lumber during the MAXXAM days. HRC has ended the practices of clearcutting and the logging of old growth, and has proven itself to be a law-abiding citizen, in stark contrast to its predecessor.
Questions remain, however, as to whether or not this change in heart and practice is enough. The forests of Elk River have been depleted, the watershed is in a state of disrepair, fish and wildlife species continue to struggle, and downstream residents continue to feel the effects of a century and a half of resource extraction. These cumulative impacts persist and serve to confound contemporary management, law, regulation, and policy.
While both HRC and Green Diamond Resource Company continue to produce forest products, conditions in the Elk River watershed have been slow to respond and recover from past management. While the debate about the effects of contemporary management rages on, the watershed, the wildlife, and downstream residents continue to suffer, thus begging the question about forest and watershed recovery. In-stream remediation projects which could benefit residents, fish, and wildlife, are mired in regulatory red-tape, and even the most optimistic estimates indicate that these projects could still take years to implement.
State regulatory mechanisms, which were largely responsible for enabling Pacific Lumber to perpetrate much of the contemporary damage that has been done to Elk River, have proven ineffective and inadequate to address pre-existing cumulative impacts in the context of modern timber harvest permitting. CAL FIRE continues to approve THPs in Elk River, while the Regional Water Quality Control Board flounders at its efforts to develop meaningful and effective regulations and permits to protect and recover water quality.
Clearly, a new approach is needed. EPIC is dedicated to working with land managers, agencies, residents, and restorationists to find collaborative, creative, and lasting solutions. Elk River is historically, biologically, and socially significant, and will be a focal point of our advocacy efforts going forward.