Boom and Bust –How Logging and Marijuana Damage the Watersheds

Guest Post by Kyle Keegan who has been walking Salmon Creek and its tributaries:

Harry Vaughn and I met at 8:30 am on at the Salmon Creek / Thomas Road junction with plans to hike Mill Creek, which is a tributary to Main Salmon Creek in the lower watershed. When I arrived at the turnout, I saw two DFG vehicles parked and wondered what their plan was since Salmon Creek was too high to navigate and the visibility was close to zero. We met two young DFG biologists who have been conducting surveys in Humboldt county this season and are working under Allan Renger who is the lead biologist for DFG out of Eureka (Fortuna?). After talking to them briefly and finding out they were heading back to the office, Harry and I headed out in hopes of finding spawning Coho Salmon. DFG supposedly found 3 Coho juveniles in Mill Creek in Sept 2009. We want to believe it could be true but feel we have to see it with our own eyes and the presence of Coho in the watershed is something worth double checking since it is my understanding that the last possible siting of them in Salmon Creek was in the early 1950’s.

Mill Creek was historically one of the favored tributaries of the lower watershed sought out by Steelhead, and most likely Coho Salmon as well. It’s redwood country down there and has a much different feel than the upper watershed. The creek was completely obliterated during the logging boom that started after World War Two in the early 1940’s. Harry shared stories that day about his parents walking to Oakdale School, ( the original Salmon Creek School) that was located on what is now Mahoney’s property on a large oak forest studded flat adjacent to lower Salmon Creek. His parents would pass Mill Creek on their way to and from school. This was in the 1920’s, before the redwoods had been hit by industrial logging. A time when there were only small groups of hardy men drinking wine from a jug and spending their days splitting redwood posts from hand-sawed trees to later be carried out by donkeys or horses.

He mentioned that his parents remembered Mill Creek being full of fish and sometimes they would stop, grab a fish and take it back home for dinner that night. In the years to come after World War Two, the prototype of the army tank was transformed into the modern day bulldozer, and the forest lands of the Pacific Northwest have never been the same. The new technology gave the timber industry the power to push their extractive interests into even the most remote places–it was now a war on the land. The pace of logging increased exponentially, and the fate of Mill Creek would be met by being turned into a skid road to access the giant old growth that lined it’s banks. Back then, during the industrial logging era and before regulations, the center of the creeks were often the path of least resistance in steep terrain. That was the “boom” and now we’re seeing the slow recovery from a long lived “bust”. The lasting reminders still lingering with the presence of massive log-jams laid down like wounded soldiers among the recovering landscape.

Mill Creek is on the mend, but it’s going to be a long time before it sees and feels the past energy of it’s ocean going companions. We were pleased to see the recovery of certain sections of habitat. There are tiny fragments of health where the creek is finding some stability to work with and build upon. We saw some newly formed potential for spawning areas, and plenty of good rearing habitat for juveniles amidst the log jams and large woody debris that was left behind over 60 years ago. Mill Creek is still sediment impaired and the gravels are mostly embedded in that fine sediment. Alders are doing their early successional job of fixing nitrogen, building soils, and creating a temporary microclimate for the redwoods that will follow them. Past (hand work) restoration projects conducted around 2005-2006 were looking good in the upper reaches, helping to firm up some of the larger landslides in the drainage. Fresh bank failures caused by this season’s high flows were also obvious as well as some new road-related damage.

So what about the fish? We only saw a brief glimpse of a juvenile fish (1+) year old. Most likely a Steelhead. We didn’t see any signs of Coho this season. No redds, live spawning fish, or carcasses. We plan on getting in there again this summer to snorkel and look for juveniles in the hopes of finding a Coho. Harry says they swim like guppies and have wavy tails unlike the lightning fast and stream-lined juvenile Steelhead. I have yet to see one myself. Mill Creek would benefit greatly from more redwood tree planting as well as more “light-touch” hand work restoration in some of the new slide areas.

Harry Vaughn emphasized our need as humans to observe more closely what is working in nature and replicate those situations in our continued efforts. Many of our conversations that day lead us to analyzing the “boom-bust” phenomenon and how it just keeps cycling around in our dysfunctional economic systems. It’s got us thinking about life in these hills after our current short-lived “cannabis boom” descends and retracts into a scale that meets the land’s ability to regenerate itself. We will no doubt have the chance once again to rethink our actions as we are faced with the challenges ahead. Our walk that day served as a clear reminder that the short-sighted pursuits of those before us still haven’t healed over, and perhaps, if we’re lucky, we’ll be gifted the chance once again to see the silver flash of Coho under the recovering canopies of Mill Creek.

Kyle Keegan

Photos by Kyle Keegan

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20 comments

  • Word. Brother.

  • Word. Brother.

  • Harry informed me today that it was his mother and his uncle who walked to Oakdale School passing Mill Creek and not his parents. He also said that the “original” Salmon Creek school was at the bottom of the watershed where Salmon Creek meets the Eel and that Oakdale School was Salmon Creek’s second school. So I apologize for the lack of tightness in my report. Also, for the record, the title “How Logging and Marijuana Damage the Watersheds” was Kym’s idea and not my own.. I probably would of chose a boring title like, “A Mill Creek Story”.
    Harry and I got out to walk today and found some more Chinook Salmon carcasses as well as fresh run Steelhead in the headwaters of the South Fork of Salmon Creek (Tosten Creek). This is very exciting for us! The sad news is that Sudden Oak Death is making a strong run in the headwaters of the South Fork of Salmon Creek. Hacker Creek is especially hit hard with close to 90% mortality of the Tan Oak trees in the riparian zone. I’ve never experienced such a dramatic change in an area in such a short period of time.

    Kyle

    • Do you think the diesel spill had any thing to do with the tan oaks’ susceptibility to the Sudden Oak Death?

    • Also Kyle, do you think that the two floods had anything to do with the silt in the creek?

      If the floods that we had were truly thousand years floods, like they say. Is it possible that salmon runs have disappeared and came back hundreds of times throughout the eons? Not to say that the loggers were not evil, but just saying.

  • Harry informed me today that it was his mother and his uncle who walked to Oakdale School passing Mill Creek and not his parents. He also said that the “original” Salmon Creek school was at the bottom of the watershed where Salmon Creek meets the Eel and that Oakdale School was Salmon Creek’s second school. So I apologize for the lack of tightness in my report. Also, for the record, the title “How Logging and Marijuana Damage the Watersheds” was Kym’s idea and not my own.. I probably would of chose a boring title like, “A Mill Creek Story”.
    Harry and I got out to walk today and found some more Chinook Salmon carcasses as well as fresh run Steelhead in the headwaters of the South Fork of Salmon Creek (Tosten Creek). This is very exciting for us! The sad news is that Sudden Oak Death is making a strong run in the headwaters of the South Fork of Salmon Creek. Hacker Creek is especially hit hard with close to 90% mortality of the Tan Oak trees in the riparian zone. I’ve never experienced such a dramatic change in an area in such a short period of time.

    Kyle

    • Do you think the diesel spill had any thing to do with the tan oaks’ susceptibility to the Sudden Oak Death?

    • Also Kyle, do you think that the two floods had anything to do with the silt in the creek?

      If the floods that we had were truly thousand years floods, like they say. Is it possible that salmon runs have disappeared and came back hundreds of times throughout the eons? Not to say that the loggers were not evil, but just saying.

  • In the last major north-coast earthquake, Kings peak grew 16 inches, and seashore near Petrolia lifted 4feet, so we have a lot more dirt to ship back out to sea. It seems that the mountains are growing fasted than we can get rid of the dirt. There are a lot of cyclical things that are worth bearing in mind. We don’t know it all, and some things just can’t be fixed with a few well placed shovels of dirt. But, I admire Kyle for being concerned. I like the fact that he said that it wasn’t a title that he would have chosen. I too resent the people that pulled their logs down the creeks, but in all fairness, some of them didn’t realize the harm that they were doing to the fish runs. Nothing seemed to bother the fish all that much. The floods didn’t seem to slow them down, but the lack of rainfall that were have experienced for the last 20 or so years seems to have been very detrimental.

    The sea lions at the mouth of the rivers eat salmon by the hundreds. At one time they were hunted by the Indians. They no longer do that. I think that has a significant impact of the returning salmon. How many fish are disappearing at sea, through offshore fishing or other sea-bound causes. We have to keep our minds wide open, and not be too quick to blame any ONE thing.

  • In the last major north-coast earthquake, Kings peak grew 16 inches, and seashore near Petrolia lifted 4feet, so we have a lot more dirt to ship back out to sea. It seems that the mountains are growing fasted than we can get rid of the dirt. There are a lot of cyclical things that are worth bearing in mind. We don’t know it all, and some things just can’t be fixed with a few well placed shovels of dirt. But, I admire Kyle for being concerned. I like the fact that he said that it wasn’t a title that he would have chosen. I too resent the people that pulled their logs down the creeks, but in all fairness, some of them didn’t realize the harm that they were doing to the fish runs. Nothing seemed to bother the fish all that much. The floods didn’t seem to slow them down, but the lack of rainfall that were have experienced for the last 20 or so years seems to have been very detrimental.

    The sea lions at the mouth of the rivers eat salmon by the hundreds. At one time they were hunted by the Indians. They no longer do that. I think that has a significant impact of the returning salmon. How many fish are disappearing at sea, through offshore fishing or other sea-bound causes. We have to keep our minds wide open, and not be too quick to blame any ONE thing.

  • Kym,

    I don’t know if the diesel spill has had any sort of influence on the susceptibility of the Tan Oak to be hit so hard by the Sudden Oak Death. My guess is that it hasn’t but that’s just a guess. We saw plenty signs of Sudden Oak Death in Tosten Creek though not nearly as bad. Hacker Creek is also currently being smothered by fine sediment in all of its pools. We were running out of daylight so we weren’t able to find the source of the sediment (possible slide). Hacker just felt dead compared to the rest of what we hiked that day. It has had some rough years.

    Ernie,
    I agree that we can’t point to any one thing that is solely responsible for the decline of our salmon runs. I see the impacts as cumulative, (reduced rainfall, development, past logging, over fishing, agriculture, nutrient loads , climate change, etc..etc) and that they are probably far more complex than our human minds can wrap around. I watched the comments from afar as you and Ben Schill had a gentlemen-like debate over whether it was logging or the “back to the landers” that had messed things up for the fish. I would have to say that you were both right. We obviously are still learning from our mistakes and continue to make new ones. The land has always gifted it’s human companions with a report card that shows how our social and economic systems are functioning. Right now, we seem to be just barely passing grades.
    I like your comment about the thousand year cycles. I agree that the ebbs and flows of life and death, be they salmon, birds, fires or floods are far grander than we can imagine in our tiny human life-spans. You reminded me of that with the comment about King’s Peak and the up-lifting of our young and fragile geology here. Geologists have estimated that Kings Peak would be 14,000 feet tall (as tall as Mt. Shasta) if it weren’t for the rate of erosion that was happening. A true testament to the powers that lie underneath and above us.
    I don’t know what the answer is to the challenges we face but one thing I have learned is that people sure like to have something to be hopeful for or to look forward to. Seeing those strong bodied ocean going fish in these streams gives me a feeling of something that is hard to explain and probably wouldn’t do much good to try to explain. It just feels right, as if they should be there and that if they no longer returned, a big feeling of emptiness would settle deep inside me.

    Thanks for your comments– Kyle

    • “Seeing those strong bodied ocean going fish in these streams gives me a feeling of something that is hard to explain and probably wouldn’t do much good to try to explain. It just feels right, as if they should be there and that if they no longer returned, a big feeling of emptiness would settle deep inside me.”

      I truly appreciate those words, I share your passion.

      I’m glad that you have taken the time to learn the local history. You know, maybe better than most, the utter devastation of the ’55 and the ’64 floods. But, like you” [it] is hard to explain and probably wouldn’t do much good to try “ It seems that only those that saw the floods “Get it”.

  • Kym,

    I don’t know if the diesel spill has had any sort of influence on the susceptibility of the Tan Oak to be hit so hard by the Sudden Oak Death. My guess is that it hasn’t but that’s just a guess. We saw plenty signs of Sudden Oak Death in Tosten Creek though not nearly as bad. Hacker Creek is also currently being smothered by fine sediment in all of its pools. We were running out of daylight so we weren’t able to find the source of the sediment (possible slide). Hacker just felt dead compared to the rest of what we hiked that day. It has had some rough years.

    Ernie,
    I agree that we can’t point to any one thing that is solely responsible for the decline of our salmon runs. I see the impacts as cumulative, (reduced rainfall, development, past logging, over fishing, agriculture, nutrient loads , climate change, etc..etc) and that they are probably far more complex than our human minds can wrap around. I watched the comments from afar as you and Ben Schill had a gentlemen-like debate over whether it was logging or the “back to the landers” that had messed things up for the fish. I would have to say that you were both right. We obviously are still learning from our mistakes and continue to make new ones. The land has always gifted it’s human companions with a report card that shows how our social and economic systems are functioning. Right now, we seem to be just barely passing grades.
    I like your comment about the thousand year cycles. I agree that the ebbs and flows of life and death, be they salmon, birds, fires or floods are far grander than we can imagine in our tiny human life-spans. You reminded me of that with the comment about King’s Peak and the up-lifting of our young and fragile geology here. Geologists have estimated that Kings Peak would be 14,000 feet tall (as tall as Mt. Shasta) if it weren’t for the rate of erosion that was happening. A true testament to the powers that lie underneath and above us.
    I don’t know what the answer is to the challenges we face but one thing I have learned is that people sure like to have something to be hopeful for or to look forward to. Seeing those strong bodied ocean going fish in these streams gives me a feeling of something that is hard to explain and probably wouldn’t do much good to try to explain. It just feels right, as if they should be there and that if they no longer returned, a big feeling of emptiness would settle deep inside me.

    Thanks for your comments– Kyle

    • “Seeing those strong bodied ocean going fish in these streams gives me a feeling of something that is hard to explain and probably wouldn’t do much good to try to explain. It just feels right, as if they should be there and that if they no longer returned, a big feeling of emptiness would settle deep inside me.”

      I truly appreciate those words, I share your passion.

      I’m glad that you have taken the time to learn the local history. You know, maybe better than most, the utter devastation of the ’55 and the ’64 floods. But, like you” [it] is hard to explain and probably wouldn’t do much good to try “ It seems that only those that saw the floods “Get it”.

  • I have been reading an oral history taken from Ticky Romanini, a woman who lived on the Kinsey property back before the logging days. At this time nearly all the nearby land was owned by the Samuels, Waddington, Thomases, and Kinseys. I think the property her family bought was 3450 acres.
    No one lived in these hills and she would go days and weeks without seeing anyone except her family.
    What she called Little Salmon creek, or Kinsey Creek headed there on the ranch. She described the water gushing out from underneath a big rocky knoll that stayed ice cold even in the 112 days of summer. In the wintertime, they had no bridges so in order to keep track of the livestock they would have to ford the creek on horseback and sometimes the flow of the water was up to the shoulders of the horse making crossing impossible. In the summer the water flow was like an eight inch pipe, but never, even in drought went dry.
    She thought the drought of the early 1980’s was the lowest she had ever seen it.

    “But, you know, after the two floods– ’55, the big one and then ’64 was the bigger one–we didn’t have the big holes in our creeks that we had before. We used to have–well, we could go over there and swim and everything before. And then after that, it covered up those big rocks with sediment and gravel. And we didn’t have the big holes then for trout, whatever, that we had before”. (interview courtesy of the Humboldt Historical society)

    On a side note, the Kinsey ranch was considered one of the poorest ranches in the country because they had so much timber. The boom hadn’t arrived yet. She rued how much good timber the family had taken out, girdling trees to kill them and thereby expand the openings for their sheep raising. She was paid a penny a tree. For the three foot diameter trees, she and her mother would axe from opposite sides.

    So as well as slipping a voice from the past into the dialogue, this is also an old ecological report for one of the the upper branches of the Southfork of Salmon creek. Her onsite report indicates that the upper reaches of Salmon Creek were irrevocably changed by the volume of water in the mega floods of ’55 and ’64.
    Pardon me, but I do not know the current names of the upper branches, I am operating from a 1921 Belcher map, clicking on section 3… to view the trails and land owners names in her story. This is the maplink .

  • I have been reading an oral history taken from Ticky Romanini, a woman who lived on the Kinsey property back before the logging days. At this time nearly all the nearby land was owned by the Samuels, Waddington, Thomases, and Kinseys. I think the property her family bought was 3450 acres.
    No one lived in these hills and she would go days and weeks without seeing anyone except her family.
    What she called Little Salmon creek, or Kinsey Creek headed there on the ranch. She described the water gushing out from underneath a big rocky knoll that stayed ice cold even in the 112 days of summer. In the wintertime, they had no bridges so in order to keep track of the livestock they would have to ford the creek on horseback and sometimes the flow of the water was up to the shoulders of the horse making crossing impossible. In the summer the water flow was like an eight inch pipe, but never, even in drought went dry.
    She thought the drought of the early 1980’s was the lowest she had ever seen it.

    “But, you know, after the two floods– ’55, the big one and then ’64 was the bigger one–we didn’t have the big holes in our creeks that we had before. We used to have–well, we could go over there and swim and everything before. And then after that, it covered up those big rocks with sediment and gravel. And we didn’t have the big holes then for trout, whatever, that we had before”. (interview courtesy of the Humboldt Historical society)

    On a side note, the Kinsey ranch was considered one of the poorest ranches in the country because they had so much timber. The boom hadn’t arrived yet. She rued how much good timber the family had taken out, girdling trees to kill them and thereby expand the openings for their sheep raising. She was paid a penny a tree. For the three foot diameter trees, she and her mother would axe from opposite sides.

    So as well as slipping a voice from the past into the dialogue, this is also an old ecological report for one of the the upper branches of the Southfork of Salmon creek. Her onsite report indicates that the upper reaches of Salmon Creek were irrevocably changed by the volume of water in the mega floods of ’55 and ’64.
    Pardon me, but I do not know the current names of the upper branches, I am operating from a 1921 Belcher map, clicking on section 3… to view the trails and land owners names in her story. This is the maplink .

  • To be clearer, I believe that Ticky was on the Kinsey/Robinson ranch from sometime in the fifities on. To correct what I posted, the large landholders at that time were the Thomases, the Samuels, and the Kinsey/Robinsons…. the Waddingtons were earlier.
    The Belcher map does not have her names for the upper reaches of the Southfork of the Salmon, but it is fun to look at the roads and trails.

  • To be clearer, I believe that Ticky was on the Kinsey/Robinson ranch from sometime in the fifities on. To correct what I posted, the large landholders at that time were the Thomases, the Samuels, and the Kinsey/Robinsons…. the Waddingtons were earlier.
    The Belcher map does not have her names for the upper reaches of the Southfork of the Salmon, but it is fun to look at the roads and trails.

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