Logs on the Eel River: What do they say about Logging Practices?

log-ride.jpg
The Humboldt Standard
January 31, 1958
Fifty years Ago Today

The rain pouring down outside melting several inches of snow reminds me of the floods we used to have here in Humboldt in the Sixties and Seventies. And the logs that floated down those raging waters. They were huge and there were lots of them.

 

Two of our best sources for local history, Ernie and Ecovox have been commenting (1/28-1/29) on how newcomers wrongly blame the forest and mining industries for the disastrous big floods. I don’t have enough scientific background to know who is correct but I do know that 30-50 years ago, in the winter, logs came down in massive amounts. Some people even supplemented their income by harvesting these floaters. My dad told me that he can remember seeing people out in a little 18-20 foot boat hooking the logs. The money from the lumber was so lucrative it was worth risking your life over. In fact, even though there are less logs today, people still are willing to do a little log pirating.

A great deal of damage done by the flood was caused not by the water but by the logs
On May 19, 1965, less than a month before the Eel River line reopened, ironworkers repair damaged members in the middle span of the Cain Rock bridge. Note the bent members at lower left; much of the damage was caused by storm-driven logs and uprooted trees jammed into the truss with almost unimaginable force. “

We lived down at Smith Point at the old Smith Ranch(just off 101 north, of where Bigfoot Burl is located) in the late sixties and very early seventies. One year, I remember the logs jammed down by the bridge just North of our house and the water backed up dangerously. I can remember my dad going out and pushing a stick into the ground at the edge of the water. Then he went out every half hour or so to see how far the flood had risen. Eventually the log jam broke and the water finally went down instead of up. I don’t remember seeing any log jams in recent times, though.

In spite of the hazard the logs created, sometimes people couldn’t resist testing the waters. Riding the logs, like the story in the newspaper clipping at the top, wasn’t the only crazy way people rode the flooding river. My dad tells of working on the roads between Dean Creek and Sylvandale and seeing “some nut going down the river” on a surf board. The “nut” was Dr. Pierson, a respected member of the local hospital. Today, though, a log is a rare occurrence. In 2006, when The North Coast Journal described the flooding at Ferndale that year, the reporter noted people remembering “it wasn’t like the old days ‘when huge logs would fill the river.'”

When we went to the ocean as a kid there would be huge piles of driftwood logs. As I grew older, I would realize most people thought of driftwood as charming arm length pieces of art–lovely for decorative fencing at summer cottages–but the driftwood this close to logged areas was huge. Massive skeletal armies of silvery gray trees, some still attached to roots like muscular tentacles, were thrown against the eroding cliffs by the rage of winter storms. Some were the direct result of the timber companies’ inroads against the forest—their trunks, amputated from their soil encrusted life sources ended in flat wounds from which sap sometimes still seeped. Others were indirect casualties—their roots had been torn from their home-ground by massive slides (which some people feel were caused by over logging) followed by the heavy rains characteristic of Humboldt and Mendocino Counties in the winter. Others were the undead sucked from their forest graves where they had been rotting peacefully and spat into the swirling muddy waters common in ravaged forest lands. The ocean took the long dead and newly dead and peeled any flesh or weak areas away and then flung the hardened remnants back onto the beaches of my childhood.

Today, a log or two a winter are all I see. I don’t know but I don’t think logging caused the big floods alone but I think logging practices added to the problem. There were too many trees floating down the river then as compared to now. There were more downed trees to float but there were also more slides that threw whole trees into the river. At least that’s what I think when I compare the floods now with those of my childhood.

 

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37 comments

  • I, also, remember the huge logs rushing down the river but one of my best memories happened when we were living on East Benbow Drive and East Branch was overflowing into the backyard of my parents’ home. As we watched from the safety of my mother’s kitchen window, a bed (cot) went floating by, complete with blankets and pillows. The bed was neatly made so, apparently, no one had been rudely awakened from a good night’s sleep. We never heard where the bed came from but we assumed someone’s mountain cabin had been washed off its foundation.

  • I’m not old enough (nor native enough) to remember the extreme flooding, but it seems to me that the rain just doesn’t come down like it used to either.

  • I’m not old enough (nor native enough) to remember the extreme flooding, but it seems to me that the rain just doesn’t come down like it used to either.

  • I grew up in Maine and when I was young they ran logs down the Kennebeck River just two blocks from my house. I used to stand on the bridge and watch the logs going by and every spring’s flood cleaned the banks of old logs. I remeber for a few years after they stopped allowing log rafts on the river there would still be stray logs floating downstream, late for the party and unsure of where they belonged.

  • I grew up in Maine and when I was young they ran logs down the Kennebeck River just two blocks from my house. I used to stand on the bridge and watch the logs going by and every spring’s flood cleaned the banks of old logs. I remeber for a few years after they stopped allowing log rafts on the river there would still be stray logs floating downstream, late for the party and unsure of where they belonged.

  • Well, if you were here today you wouldn’t say that Heather! The sky is pouring down huge amounts of rain and it has been for hours.

    Mom, I vaguely remember a shaggy white dog on a doghouse roof (it looked sort of like the Brown’s dog from back there in East Benbow) floating down the river. I remember seeing it from the Kitchen during the 64 flood but I was pretty young.

  • Well, if you were here today you wouldn’t say that Heather! The sky is pouring down huge amounts of rain and it has been for hours.

    Mom, I vaguely remember a shaggy white dog on a doghouse roof (it looked sort of like the Brown’s dog from back there in East Benbow) floating down the river. I remember seeing it from the Kitchen during the 64 flood but I was pretty young.

  • “Late for the party” great description! I remember both the logs and giant trees with their roots clutching angrily upwards floating down the muddy Eel. I still have scary dreams about them.

  • “Late for the party” great description! I remember both the logs and giant trees with their roots clutching angrily upwards floating down the muddy Eel. I still have scary dreams about them.

  • It’s pouring here! I wonder if there will be flooding.

  • It’s pouring here! I wonder if there will be flooding.

  • That little white dog owned by Browns was Tristan. I remember him well. But I don’t remember the dog on the doghouse incident. I was probably at school.

  • That little white dog owned by Browns was Tristan. I remember him well. But I don’t remember the dog on the doghouse incident. I was probably at school.

  • But, remember, these are from log decks from mill sites that came down the river. There were 17 mills in the Klamath Trinity area alone in 1964. All with log decks.
    Yes, the logs did do damage to the bridges, sure, that’s obvious, but I also remember house trailers, Doxol tanks, sheds, cars, and all manner of debris also coming down the river.

    My point is, logging and mining didn’t cause the flooding. Rain and Snow did. There has been flooding since the beginning of time. Do we think it started with the arrival of the Europeans?
    Oh, come now.

  • But, remember, these are from log decks from mill sites that came down the river. There were 17 mills in the Klamath Trinity area alone in 1964. All with log decks.
    Yes, the logs did do damage to the bridges, sure, that’s obvious, but I also remember house trailers, Doxol tanks, sheds, cars, and all manner of debris also coming down the river.

    My point is, logging and mining didn’t cause the flooding. Rain and Snow did. There has been flooding since the beginning of time. Do we think it started with the arrival of the Europeans?
    Oh, come now.

  • Jen, its finally stopped raining…and started sleeting here. Sheesh.

    Jackie, I remember Tristan. He helped get Bingo pregnant!

    Ekovox, I don’t think the logging etc caused the flooding. That water came from somewhere not just from hillsides that didn’t have trees and weren’t absorbing like usual (an explanation I’ve heard) But I think floods back then were exacerbated by bad logging practices.

    As a whole, we’ve gotten smarter about how we do things. Back then, I remember logged areas as being naked. To over simplify, It makes sense that tree and other plant roots hold soil together, keep hillsides intact. To me, it makes sense that the clear cutting left hillsides vulnerable to excessive runoff and slides that worsened the floods back then. I’m not saying we couldn’t have just as terrible as a flood now but the chances are lessened.

  • Jen, its finally stopped raining…and started sleeting here. Sheesh.

    Jackie, I remember Tristan. He helped get Bingo pregnant!

    Ekovox, I don’t think the logging etc caused the flooding. That water came from somewhere not just from hillsides that didn’t have trees and weren’t absorbing like usual (an explanation I’ve heard) But I think floods back then were exacerbated by bad logging practices.

    As a whole, we’ve gotten smarter about how we do things. Back then, I remember logged areas as being naked. To over simplify, It makes sense that tree and other plant roots hold soil together, keep hillsides intact. To me, it makes sense that the clear cutting left hillsides vulnerable to excessive runoff and slides that worsened the floods back then. I’m not saying we couldn’t have just as terrible as a flood now but the chances are lessened.

  • Kym. Wanta’ bet?

    I love your postings, so don’t be offended, but I beg to differ.

    Recent computer compilations of events that have already occurred, project that the Eel River could have a flood of NINE FEET DEEPER than the sixty-four flood.

    I hope your “roots” are holding on tight.

    The soil on the north coast is the most erosive soil in the world. Really! You could look it up. How do you account for the fact that the Indians burned everything on the coast on about five year cycles. I think the coast is much more covered with “roots” right now than it has ever been.

    Many of the logs and timber that washed down the river were from logging, but the depth of the water was caused from too much snow and rain. Much of the driftwood that was found along the coast was left from the fifty-five flood.

    If the watershed (sorry Ekovox) soaks up too much water, it simply slides away in one big large sheet, no mater how many roots there are that are holding hands. I’ll cite an example that I know that you are familiar with: The slide in Holbrook Grove north of Redway that was fabulously maintained and preserved by the State Park. That slide slid many thousands of board feet of virgin redwood clear into the river. In 1964 one slide down by Big Bend south of Leggett slid ten times that amount, again un-logged timber. There is a limit to what a hillside forest land will soak up, then it just breaks loose and slides. Sometimes causing much more destruction than the water washing off over the top of the soil.

  • Kym. Wanta’ bet?

    I love your postings, so don’t be offended, but I beg to differ.

    Recent computer compilations of events that have already occurred, project that the Eel River could have a flood of NINE FEET DEEPER than the sixty-four flood.

    I hope your “roots” are holding on tight.

    The soil on the north coast is the most erosive soil in the world. Really! You could look it up. How do you account for the fact that the Indians burned everything on the coast on about five year cycles. I think the coast is much more covered with “roots” right now than it has ever been.

    Many of the logs and timber that washed down the river were from logging, but the depth of the water was caused from too much snow and rain. Much of the driftwood that was found along the coast was left from the fifty-five flood.

    If the watershed (sorry Ekovox) soaks up too much water, it simply slides away in one big large sheet, no mater how many roots there are that are holding hands. I’ll cite an example that I know that you are familiar with: The slide in Holbrook Grove north of Redway that was fabulously maintained and preserved by the State Park. That slide slid many thousands of board feet of virgin redwood clear into the river. In 1964 one slide down by Big Bend south of Leggett slid ten times that amount, again un-logged timber. There is a limit to what a hillside forest land will soak up, then it just breaks loose and slides. Sometimes causing much more destruction than the water washing off over the top of the soil.

  • According to the National Weather Service, it is just going to continue to rain with short breaks between storms.

  • According to the National Weather Service, it is just going to continue to rain with short breaks between storms.

  • Ernie,
    I agree with you that we could have just as bad (or worse) flood again because, in the end, its the water (in conjunction with the snow pack) that is the main cause of flooding. I’m just thinking that (and rereading my post, I realize it was not one of my clearer efforts at writing) there were more slides and more terrible slides back then. I am judging from the amount of huge trees, rootballs and all, that came down during floods. I’m judging mainly from the late sixties and early seventies floods. When we lived by the river, we would see such huge trees floating down all the time.

    The ground up here is unstable. My husband works for CalTrans as Project Manager now but previously as a engineer and my dad worked in maintenance (my grandfather also was in Caltrans but that’s another story) . High levels of emergency work in District 1 are the results of such unstable ground. Slides occur whether there is logging or mining or not. But, according to a study done in Idaho and reference by Kathleen A. Seyedbagheri in her book Idaho Forestry Best Management Practices, slides tend to occur where roads and logging activity has happened.

    “Fifty-eight percent of the slides were associated with roaded areas uninfluenced by logging or fire. Another 30 percent were associated with roads in combination with fire and logging. Seven percent of slides were associated with fire only and [only] 3 percent occurred on undisturbed sites.”

    According to the study, as tree and shrub cover decreased, slide incidence increased. Slide incidence was most likely 4-10 years after logging which the authors of the slide attributed to root decay.

    So, looks like Caltrans is to blame;>

    Seriously, as man interacts with the environment, slides are more likely to occur than they do naturally in my opinion. I think the slides contribute to flooding problems. ie damage by logs, silt in the river, etc.

  • Ernie,
    I agree with you that we could have just as bad (or worse) flood again because, in the end, its the water (in conjunction with the snow pack) that is the main cause of flooding. I’m just thinking that (and rereading my post, I realize it was not one of my clearer efforts at writing) there were more slides and more terrible slides back then. I am judging from the amount of huge trees, rootballs and all, that came down during floods. I’m judging mainly from the late sixties and early seventies floods. When we lived by the river, we would see such huge trees floating down all the time.

    The ground up here is unstable. My husband works for CalTrans as Project Manager now but previously as a engineer and my dad worked in maintenance (my grandfather also was in Caltrans but that’s another story) . High levels of emergency work in District 1 are the results of such unstable ground. Slides occur whether there is logging or mining or not. But, according to a study done in Idaho and reference by Kathleen A. Seyedbagheri in her book Idaho Forestry Best Management Practices, slides tend to occur where roads and logging activity has happened.

    “Fifty-eight percent of the slides were associated with roaded areas uninfluenced by logging or fire. Another 30 percent were associated with roads in combination with fire and logging. Seven percent of slides were associated with fire only and [only] 3 percent occurred on undisturbed sites.”

    According to the study, as tree and shrub cover decreased, slide incidence increased. Slide incidence was most likely 4-10 years after logging which the authors of the slide attributed to root decay.

    So, looks like Caltrans is to blame;>

    Seriously, as man interacts with the environment, slides are more likely to occur than they do naturally in my opinion. I think the slides contribute to flooding problems. ie damage by logs, silt in the river, etc.

  • Carol, the rain has mostly stopped since last night. We had some sleet, then no more precipitation (that I was aware of) until just the last few minutes. I hope this isn’t the other storm you were speaking of.

  • Carol, the rain has mostly stopped since last night. We had some sleet, then no more precipitation (that I was aware of) until just the last few minutes. I hope this isn’t the other storm you were speaking of.

  • Seriously, as man interacts with the environment, slides are more likely to occur than they do naturally in my opinion. I think the slides contribute to flooding problems. ie damage by logs, silt in the river, etc.

    Kym, I believe that is a given. But, what about the petrified Douglas Fir logs that are buried in the sand south of McKinlevyile with a carbon dating of 1700. They believe that was from the tsunami of that time period.

    Why was there logging on the north coast? Why were roads improved to meet the demands of that industry? Why do we have Cal-Trans and a road system at all? America and the world needed lumber. The north coast had it. Villages and towns and cities were built with northcoast lumber. Sure, the practices to get the timber were not scientifically appropriate. But, damn, that didn’t arrive until way, way, way late in the game.

    The timber companies didn’t just cut down trees and throw them in the river. Sometimes, I really believe people believe that.

    If we want to blame our environmental devastation on anything, blame it on our population growth and the need for housing. Don’t blame the loggers. (Not, that you are, Kym…I’m just ranting)

  • Seriously, as man interacts with the environment, slides are more likely to occur than they do naturally in my opinion. I think the slides contribute to flooding problems. ie damage by logs, silt in the river, etc.

    Kym, I believe that is a given. But, what about the petrified Douglas Fir logs that are buried in the sand south of McKinlevyile with a carbon dating of 1700. They believe that was from the tsunami of that time period.

    Why was there logging on the north coast? Why were roads improved to meet the demands of that industry? Why do we have Cal-Trans and a road system at all? America and the world needed lumber. The north coast had it. Villages and towns and cities were built with northcoast lumber. Sure, the practices to get the timber were not scientifically appropriate. But, damn, that didn’t arrive until way, way, way late in the game.

    The timber companies didn’t just cut down trees and throw them in the river. Sometimes, I really believe people believe that.

    If we want to blame our environmental devastation on anything, blame it on our population growth and the need for housing. Don’t blame the loggers. (Not, that you are, Kym…I’m just ranting)

  • Whew! I was reading all the way down saying to myself, “wait, I didn’t say loggers were evil 8)” In fact, some local families like the Tosten’s down here are pretty great.

    I understand the need to rant, though It does seem as if the newcomers think they arrived like missionaries to enlighten us poor backwoods folk sometimes. I get tired of people acting like hunting is evil while they are eating their lamb and I wonder how some people can rant about logging when they live in wood houses and complain about lumber prices. But, while I don’t blame the loggers, I’m glad logging practices are changing.

  • Whew! I was reading all the way down saying to myself, “wait, I didn’t say loggers were evil 8)” In fact, some local families like the Tosten’s down here are pretty great.

    I understand the need to rant, though It does seem as if the newcomers think they arrived like missionaries to enlighten us poor backwoods folk sometimes. I get tired of people acting like hunting is evil while they are eating their lamb and I wonder how some people can rant about logging when they live in wood houses and complain about lumber prices. But, while I don’t blame the loggers, I’m glad logging practices are changing.

  • Even the Eel River Old Growth log jam is endangered. Funny how things change. 2% remains of Ancient Forest…

  • Even the Eel River Old Growth log jam is endangered. Funny how things change. 2% remains of Ancient Forest…

  • Jeff, I like to think that the disappearance of the log jams is a good sign for the forests. Hopefully, it means less slides and better logging practices and more frugal use of the trees that are downed.

  • Jeff, I like to think that the disappearance of the log jams is a good sign for the forests. Hopefully, it means less slides and better logging practices and more frugal use of the trees that are downed.

  • wow i love that clipping about the boys joy ride.

  • wow i love that clipping about the boys joy ride.

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