Page 1

ESP 168A


Fall 2013


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report Prepared for the Sierra Club

By Alicia Halpern, Alyssa Obester, Danica Liongson, and Tanzi Jackson

10 December 2013 ESP 168A Section A01 Instructor: Joan Ogden TA: Boon-Ling Yeo

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


Note. Edits made to Part 1 of the report are highlighted. (E.g., This is a change.) iv

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

I. PROBLEM DEFINITION 1. Problem Definition and Background

Logging in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California began in the mid-1800s, in

conjunction with the Gold Rush and the rapid increase in the State’s population (CAL FIRE, 2013). Products of logging were used to support local mining towns, and this industry soon became an important part of the State’s economy. While regulations on logging and environmental awareness has increased in recent years, logging is a common practice in California, and clearcutting has and continues to damage the forest ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada. In response to this pressing issue, we are examining the negative aspects of these logging practices and their impact on water quality, soil erosion, carbon storage, fire risk, aesthetic value, biodiversity and overall ecosystem health and function. These practices are not only harmful to the environment, but are also economically costly.

2. Evidence of the Problem

Logging typically involves clearing large patches of wooded areas, removing the

downed trees, burning the stumps, spraying herbicides, followed by replanting seedlings in the decimated patch (Brown, 2000). This process is severely detrimental to both biotic and abiotic components of the environment. Specifically, as trees are removed for timber, root cohesion decreases, which results in increased rates of erosion and runoff (Lewis, 1998). As erosion increases, a greater volume of sediment is deposited into nearby streams and lakes, and this increased sediment load decreases water quality, visibility, and indirectly impacts aquatic organisms that are reliant on particular hydrologic parameters for survival (Lewis, 1998). The existence of large forest patches functions as an ecosystem service to provide erosion and runoff control, as well as water quality maintenance.

Clearcutting also increases fire risk. Specifically, when logging removes large areas

of trees, typically, seedlings that are all of the same age are replanted. This results in an assemblage that is both homogenous in age as well as size. This type of forest stand is highly

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


susceptible to fire (Brown, 2000). Additionally, when logging completely decimates and disturbs an area, the first colonizers include fast growing, dense underbrush that provide large amounts of fuel and increase fire risk (Brown, 2000). However, while this has proven to be an issue in other, more studied areas impacted by clearcutting, evidence on the impacts of fire risk on the Sierra Nevada are lacking, and further research is needed to obtain data specific to the Sierras.

Additionally, as logging increases and forest ecosystems are increasingly disturbed,

recreational opportunities and aesthetic value of these forests declines. As patches are logged and new growth is less biologically diverse and can support fewer species, scenic value and opportunities to observe rare wildlife decline, impacting both tourism and decreasing the aesthetic value of these forests.

The forests of the Sierra Nevada also support a myriad of microhabitats, create shelter

and shaded areas for biota, and help serve as buffers against severe weather and climate. The larger the patch of forest, the healthier the ecosystem and the more species it can support. However, with increased logging, these forests are broken up and degraded, and connectivity between patches decreases. This results in increased vulnerability of organisms to predation, reduced gene flow and movement between patches, and an overall decrease in ecosystem health and diversity. (Brown, 2000). Because the Sierras are home to a diverse array of species, including those that are endemic and some that are listed, logging has profound consequences for the health of an ecosystem.

Clearcutting has and continues to damage the forest ecosystems of the Sierra Nevadas,

and these practices are set to increase in the future. Specifically, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), the largest logging company in California, currently owns 1.5 million acres of Sierra Nevada forest (See Figure 1 in Appendix). The company plans to increase its clearcutting to one out of every forty acres by the end of the century and “has declared plans to clear cut 70 percent of its land over the next 70 to 80 years.� (Hertsgaard, 2000; Brown, 2000). It is important to note that because clearcutting is taking place almost entirely on privately owned lands, there is little


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

access to these areas for scientific research on the effects of the practice. Therefore, limited quantitative data on the ecological effects of clearcutting in the Sierra Nevada.

3. Underlying Causes

The Society of American Foresters helps explain a primary reason for why clearcutting is

used when it states that, “Clearcutting can be the most effective and economical way to harvest and regenerate important native tree species such as Douglas fir and loblolly pine, enabling full utilization of the commercial timber produced on each harvested area� (2008). The key points are that clearcutting is efficient and economical. This means it is a very profitable methods of harvesting trees such as the firs and pines that blanket the Sierra Nevada land owned by SPI. In an age where the timber industry has seen increasing consolidation of land holdings, being as profitable as possible is a necessity (Brown, 2000). As SPI has acquired increasing amounts of forest land, it has increased its use of clearcutting. Therefore a root reason for this practice is the consolidation of landownership in the Sierra Nevada and the competitive pressure of the market to be profitable.

At the root of the problem is the question of why clearcutting is used by the logging

industry in the first place. Clearcutting is used is because Sierra Pacific Industries has found it to be the most profitable logging method in the current market. The secondary underlying cause is the lack of regulations on clearcutting logging in the state. This can also be described as an underlying cause, however, ultimately the regulations are simply addressing the root issue that there are financial incentives for clearcutting. If these were different, there potentially would not be the use of clearcuts. So the current regulatory framework in place can be considered a secondary underlying problem.

The regulatory framework tries to reign in the ecological damage and externalities

wrought by logging within California. The logging industry is motivated by profit and clearcutting is largely profitable due to the industry’s ability to externalize social and environmental costs. It is important to note that the regulations are a response to the

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


root issue, which is that without regulation, there are market failures allowing for this externalization of social and environmental costs. The current regulatory framework in California will be discussed in more depth below.

4. Summary of Problem

We are examining the negative impacts of clearcutting in the Sierra Nevada, and its

impact on water quality, soil erosion, carbon storage, fire risk, aesthetic value, biodiversity and overall ecosystem health and function. These practices are not only harmful to the environment, but are also economically costly and pose safety hazards.

5. Past Efforts to Deal with the Problem

Awareness of the clearcutting issue in the Sierra Nevada began to grow in the 1990s

when three propositions (128, 130, and 138) were put before voters on the ballot that addressed the issue of conservation of private forests in the state (Paddock, 1990). Proposition 130 was the strongest and known as the ‘Forests Forever’ Initiative. It tried to preserve forests for wildlife values and would have fundamentally changed how the logging industry operates in the state. Most importantly, it would have banned clearcutting and instead allow only the selection method of logging. In addition, it would have stopped loggers from taking more than 60% of a timber volume in a given area (Paddock, 1990). It failed to pass by a 4.5% margin (Brown, 2000). Even though none of these propositions passed, the closeness of vote on Proposition 130, goes to show how there is a strong environmentally minded voting block in the state of California and that legislation has the potential to fundamentally alter how logging is conducted on both public and private lands in the state. For more information on recent efforts to address clearcutting, refer to Section 6c.


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

6. Political Background 6a. Interest Groups’ and Stakeholders’ Perceptions The two most important interest groups involved in this issue are:

Pro-clearcutting coalition

Largely people working in the timber industry or who are economically

connected to the timber industry

Anti-clearcutting coalition

Concerned citizens who care about wildlife, water quality, aesthetics, and the

tourism and recreation economy in California. This group is often called the

‘environmentalists’ although there are probably people that are encompassed

by it that would not identify with this label.

The pro-clearcutting interest group in the state is spearheaded by the largest

logging company in the California timber industry: Sierra Pacific Industries. Economically speaking, they have a lot at stake if logging regulations changed. This stakeholder essentially perceives there to be no problem and that the current state of the practice is acceptable. SPI spokesperson Tim Feller, said that “clearcutting is no more environmentally damaging than selective logging, and that claims to the contrary are…unsupported by scientific evidence” (Hertsgaard, 2000). The main timber industry perception is that logging is a necessity to the economic viability of the timber industry and that it causes relatively minimal environmental damage. This perception continues to be steadfast, for none of the anti-clearcutting propositions have succeeded.

The anti-clearcutting coalition encompasses a broad range of groups. There are the

traditional large environmental protection non-governmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Defenders of Wildlife that strongly oppose the practice. There are also small environmental organizations such as Stop Clearcutting California. In addition to these environmental organizations, there is a fair amount of support for banning clearcutting from people and businesses in the Sierra Nevada (Hertsgaard, 2000). Overall, those who are anti-

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


clearcutting believe that corporate companies that engage in clearcutting are degrading the earth (Environmental Protection Information Center, 2013).

6b. Key Values and Beliefs of the Major Interest Groups

Pro-Clearcutting. This coalition is made of people who depend financially on the

logging industry. This involves those who are employed by companies such as Sierra Pacific Industry to do the physical labor and those involved in the management and business side of the industry. A fundamental belief is that forests are a source of resources to be used for human consumption. Trees are largely seen as the raw materials to turn into products (Curiel, 2008). Private land ownership is seen as the ownership of capital and that the right to use the land as desired should be a part of the land ownership rights (See Figure 2 in Appendix). It should be done in the most effective and efficient manner possible to maximize profit.

Anti-Clearcutting. This coalition is made up of people who care about the

environmental values of the Sierra Nevada such as the habitat it provides for wildlife, the quality of water it provides to people, fire resiliency and the health of the overall ecosystem. The coalition also involves people who depend on the economic benefits brought to the Sierra Nevada region by recreational visitors and tourists. Environmentalists believe that a forest isn’t measured by the number of trees on a lot, but on the quality of habitat provided to animals and the diversity of the flora and fauna. Fundamentally, the environmental coalition believes that the intensive logging practices are threatening forest health, wildlife and watersheds and land ownership should not allow anyone to cause this severe wildlife damage.

Summary of Key Differences. The most important surface differences lie in the belief

about the degree of damage caused by clearcutting practices. The forestry industry seems to believe that its practices are not that detrimental to overall forest health (Society of American Foresters, 2008). Many in the environmentalist coalition strongly disagree on this point. On a more fundamental level, the forestry industry seems to view a forest as a crop of trees with little regard to the composition of the trees or the entirety of the ecosystem and watershed. The


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

environmentalist coalition sees the ecosystem itself as being of primary importance, not simply the trees. The logging industry is primarily concerned with its ability to make money by turning forests into lumber products, and the environmental coalition is primarily concerned with the less easily quantified environmental quality issues.

6c. Legal Background

Clearcutting was first regulated in California in 1965 with the State Forest Practice

Act (Lippe, 2001). It was eventually deemed unconstitutional and after several revisions, the legislation was put into effect again as the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act of 1973 (Lippe, 2001). This new set of regulations outlined California’s responsibility to protect and manage forests in conjunction with the long-term welfare of the people, watersheds, and wildlife in the state (Sierra Club, “Clearcutting.”). The 1973 Forest Practice Act (FPA) also attempted to counter bias towards the timber industry. To accomplish this goal, the FPA mandated that both the California Department of Forestry (CDF) and the Board of Forestry work to maintain a balance between manufacturing wood products and defending forests from degradation (Lippe, 2001).

In 1976, it was decreed that logging companies’ timber harvest plans must begin to

follow CEQA protocol (Lippe, 2001). This brought back the bias towards the timber industry since the sheer number of plans produced by the timber industry every year makes it extremely difficult for environmental advocates to dispute many of the logging projects that impact the environment (Lippe, 2001). As a result, clearcutting continued to become a more common practice in the 1990s. In opposition, unprecedented legislation gained momentum for a statewide clearcutting moratorium in 2000. Former Governor Gray Davis, however, vetoed the bill on the grounds that he did not think it had any compromise between environmentalists and the timber industry (Burnett, 2011). This was a blow to the anti-clearcutting campaign and today, clearcutting is still legal in California (Hertsgaard, 2000; Lippe, 2001).

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


7. Client’s Goals

The project’s client is the Sierra Club. This is a well-known environmental organization

whose purpose is to “explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources;… and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives” (Sierra Club, 2006). One of Sierra Club’s four primary campaigns is Our Wild America and one of the four initiatives of that campaign is titled Protecting and Restoring Forests. In regards to this particular issue, the Sierra Club’s goals are to “manage our national forests as a gift to future generations, maintaining and working toward whole and healthy natural systems” (Sierra Club, “Protecting”).


Ban all clearcutting practices in the Sierra Nevada. While it would be an incredibly

difficult battle to ban logging in the Sierra Nevada all together, the types of methods allowed in the current harvest area could be regulated. Logging companies would need to practice “selective cutting,” which means thinning out the forest for logging, rather than clearcutting patches of land.

Place a tax on clearcutting in the Sierra Nevada. California could place a tax on

logging, measured either in the number of trees, the weight of timber, or the number of acres harvested per year. Measuring the number of acres that have been clearcut is the best tax option because it will prevent loggers using the selective cutting method from being punished. Logging companies can decide themselves whether to pass the price of the tax along to consumers or to take that cost out of their revenue.

Limit logging in the Sierra Nevada. Rather than regulating the type of tree

harvesting allowed, this method would limit the amount of land available to logging. Logging could be prohibited in certain areas of the Sierra Nevada or the amount of acres companies can clearcut in a year could be regulated and reduced. Given that there is a mixture of private and public land, and private landowners


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

No action. Currently, loggers must obey CEQA and the Endangered Species Act. There

is also a restriction on the size clearcutting areas can be (ranging from 20-40 acres) and a minimum buffer size between patches of 300 square feet. However, there is no limit on the number of patches available for clearcutting (Lippe, 2001).


The evaluation criteria that the group intends to use are ecosystem health, watershed

effects, carbon storage capacity, economic impact, fire risk, and scenic value. Measuring species richness (number of species per acre) will provide the most insight into the state of the ecosystem. As for watershed impacts, the consequences will be established primarily through the amount of stormwater runoff (cubic feet per year). Next, the forest’s ability to capture carbon will be expressed by the amount stored (metric tons of carbon dioxide per acre). The economic effects, such as logging industry revenue, will be conveyed in the industry employment rates (number of jobs per logging company) and costs to the landowner and taxpayers (dollars per acre). Fire risk would be measured according to the amount of fuel load (density of underbrush per acre). Lastly, the scenic value would be determined through total tourism (number of visitors per year). All in all, the evaluation criteria will allow us to assess the outcomes of our proposed solutions to the problem of clearcutting.

2. Systems Analysis 2a. Variables (1) Number of animal species (richness) (2) Number of plant species (richness) (3) Animal species evenness (how even the distribution of species diversity over an area of land) (4) Plant species evenness (5) Number of endangered and threatened species (6) Habitat fragmentation (7) Water quality (8) Bank stability (9) Sediment load (10) Number of trees per acre (11) Age of trees (12) Costs to landowner (13) Costs to taxpayers (14) Number of employees in industry (15)

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


Water treatment cost (16) Number of service roads built for logging (17) Density of underbrush (18) Number of tourists per year (19) Noise pollution decibel levels (20) Amount of herbicide application (21) Amount of stormwater runoff (22) Ratio of young growth trees to old growth

2b. System Diagram See system diagram on page 11.

2c. Cause and Effect Relationships Among Variables

Ecosystem Health. Ecosystem health is determined by plant and animal species

richness, plant and animal species evenness, the number of endangered and threatened species, the degree of habitat fragmentation, bank stability, and the amount of herbicide applied.

If clearcutting is completely banned, there will be a positive effect on species

richness and evenness. Additionally, habitat fragmentation will decrease as will the number of endangered and threatened species. Herbicide use will also be eliminated. Overall, if clearcutting is banned, ecosystem health improves.

If a tax is imposed for clearcutting, there will be a positive effect on species richness and

evenness, though likely less in magnitude than if clearcutting were banned altogether. Also, habitat fragmentation and number of threatened and listed species will decrease, though by less of a degree than the alternative policy. Additionally, herbicide use will decrease. In general, if a tax is imposed for clearcutting, ecosystem health will improve.

Watershed Quality. The watershed of the Sierra Nevada range is impacted by the

number of trees per acre, degree of habitat fragmentation, water quality, bank stability, sediment load, amount of stormwater runoff, water treatment cost, amount of herbicide applied, and service roads.

If clearcutting is banned, the number of trees per acre will increase and the flow of water

will be slowed and allowed to infiltrate the ground. This means that the amount of stormwater runoff will decrease, the water quality will increase, and thus water treatment cost will decrease.


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


2b. System Diagram. This figure shows the relationship between select alternatives, variables, and evaluation critiera.

Herbicide will no longer be need and the amount applied will decrease. Since stormwater runoff decreased, bank stability will increase and sediment load will decrease, which will also cause an increase in water quality. As for service roads, a ban on clearcutting will result in a decline in the building and use of logging roads, as well as other manmade channels such as ditches and culverts (“Forest Update�, 2011). The reduction in impervious surfaces and unnatural paths for water flow through forests will also lessen the amount of water runoff and decrease habitat fragmentation. Overall, all these processes will improve the overall watershed quality.

A tax on clearcutting would have similar effects as the results from a ban. Yet, since

it would mean some clearcutting could continue, the results would not be as drastic as they would be under a ban. The number of trees per acre, water quality, and bank stability would all increase but not as much as they would be following a ban. Amount of herbicide applied, sediment load, and water treatment cost would lessen, but would not be completely eliminated. Lastly, since clearcutting would continue, service roads would still be needed and cause some habitat fragmentation and stormwater to run off the impervious surfaces. In general, if clearcutting is taxed, overall watershed quality would improve, but not as significantly as it would under a ban.

Carbon Storage Capacity. The carbon storage capacity of the Sierra Nevada forests is

largely determined by the amount of trees per acre and the age of these trees.

If clearcutting is banned, all areas being harvested for timber will have to have some

number of trees at a given time. Selective cutting allows for a mixture of old and young trees and ensures some trees will be present, permitting more carbon storage than clearcutting.

If clearcutting is taxed, carbon storage will also increase. A tax on loggers who

use clearcutting will reduce the amount of land that is clearcut either by limiting loggers’ operations or encouraging them to switch some (or all) their land to selective cutting. As more land is switched from clearcutting to selective cutting, the carbon storage capacity of the Sierra Nevada will increase.


Logging Industry Revenue. The revenue of logging companies is impacted by the cost

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

to landowner, the cost to taxpayer, the number of employees in the industry, and the number of service roads built for logging.

If clearcutting is banned, this can be interpreted as an increase in costs because the the

forestry industry will have to switch to selective harvest methods that are less economically efficient. If costs go up in the industry, there is a chance that companies may lay off workers and the industry itself will shrink. The increase in costs will decrease logging company revenue and then companies may lay off employees. There is a positive correlation between decrease in revenue and a decline in employees.

If clearcutting is taxed, the effect is likely very similar to a ban, only it would probably

happen on a lesser scale. Taxing clearcutting would be an increase in the cost of regulations to the company, this would cause revenue to decrease. As revenue decreases, so too would the number of people employed by the logging industry.

Fire Risk. Fire risk is influenced by the density of underbrush as well as the ratio of

young to old growth tree species.

If clearcutting is banned, the density of underbrush due to logging will change,

assuming that systems return to a less disturbed state or that mechanical thinning is implemented as a management technique. Ratio of young to old growth tree species will also change, and given enough time, forest systems will likely return to a more heterogeneous distribution of age classes. Overall, fire risk will decline if clearcutting is banned.

If clearcutting is taxed, density of underbrush and ratio of old to young growth species

will decline. Dense areas of young, fire-prone vegetation will likely be less prevalent, as will the ratio of old to younger growth species. In general, if clearcutting is taxed, fire risk will decrease.

Aesthetic Values. The aesthetic value of the Sierra Nevada region is affected by habitat

fragmentation, the number of service roads built for logging, tourism (visitors per year), and noise pollution (measured in decibels).

If clearcutting is banned, the aesthetic value of the Sierra Nevada will increase because

every acre will have some trees of varying ages and heights, which is better than the current view

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


of checkerboard areas of lush forest vs. an absence of trees.

If clearcutting is taxed, the checkerboard pattern will remain. However, if the tax is large

enough that loggers decide to switch to selective cutting on their own, then the aesthetics could be restored.

2d. Consequences of Alternatives.

i. Ban Clearcutting

Carbon Storage Capacity. If clearcutting is banned, the average number of trees per

acre will increase. Banning clearcutting would mean that all areas would need to have trees, even if that area was a thinned area of trees. If it is necessary to have trees on every acre of land at all times, then the trees present would vary in age. The number of trees and the age of these trees are both important determinants of carbon storage levels. However, it is possible that if the rules are lax, loggers could thin out the forest to very low levels that would not be much of an improvement over clearcutting.

Logging Industry Revenue. If all clearcutting loggers had to switch to selective cutting,

they would harvest fewer trees per acre. This would impact their annual harvest, at least at first, because they would need to allow more time for trees to grow older. They may also need new equipment to change the way they harvest the trees and their old equipment may become useless--especially if they are unable to sell it to other loggers due to the ban. It is also possible that landowners would need to hire more employees to selectively harvest the same amount or even fewer trees. Contrastingly, landowners may have to lay off workers if the restrictions cause them to harvest a much lower number of trees. Either way, supply will decrease, which will contribute to decreased revenue in the logging industry.

Aesthetic Values. Banning clearcutting will rid the Sierra Nevadas of habitat

fragmentation, which is the main aesthetic problem with the Sierra Nevadas. The forest is not meant to have barren scars on its surface in a checkerboard pattern. Banning clearcutting may also reduce noise pollution because selective cutting means one a few trees can possibly be cut


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

down at once. The giant trucks needed to tear all the trees out of the ground for clearcutting would be much louder.

ii. Tax Clearcutting

Carbon Storage Capacity. If clearcutting is taxed, then these practices will become more

expensive. If logging companies decide to pass the tax onto consumers or take the tax out of their revenue, the only change in carbon storage will come from the trees that aren’t cut down due to market shifts. However, if the tax is effective in getting loggers to change their practices to selective harvesting, or just stop harvesting in general, then there will be more trees per acre that will also grow older than those used for clearcutting. With an increased number of trees and lifetime of these trees, carbon storage will increase.

Logging Industry Revenue. Taxing clearcutting would increase the cost to either

the landowner or the taxpayer, depending on how logging companies decide to allocate it. Regardless of how it is allocated, it will impact their revenue. If the tax is passed on to the consumer, the cost will rise and the demand will decrease. If logging companies take this tax out of their profits or revenues, then it will decrease the revenues of the industry.

Aesthetic Values. Similar to carbon storage capacity, if the tax is effective in getting

loggers to harvest less or in a more sustainable manner, then the aesthetic values will increase. However, it is not guaranteed with a tax that the checkerboard pattern will disappear--it may just cover less area.


We are focusing on either banning or taxing clearcutting in the Sierra Nevada mountains

of California, and the impacts of these alternatives on the future of the state from an economic, environmental, and aesthetic standpoint. We are focusing on the Sierra Nevada specifically and not the state as a whole, nor the nation as a whole, because clearcutting is not prevalent nor legal in all states, nor is logging a prominent part of every state’s industry.

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


2. Benefits

i. Ban Clearcutting

Increase in Ecosystem Health. If clearcutting is banned, ecosystem health will increase.

Relatively undisturbed and unfragmented ecosystems provide valuable services to both humans and the environment. Specifically, as ecosystem health increases, species richness and diversity increases, improving important services for humans such as increased bank stability and water quality and decreased rates of erosion. Ecosystem health should be included in the benefit aspect of the cost benefit analysis because it encompasses important aspects of services to humans and the environment.

Increase in Carbon Storage Capacity. If clearcutting is banned, spatial habitat

heterogeneity will increase, resulting in an increase in both species diversity and age structure of trees. With an increase in tree diversity, carbon uptake will increase, benefiting air quality for the citizens of California and ultimately the world.

Decrease in Fire Risk. If clearcutting is banned, the density of underbrush will increase

and habitat heterogeneity will increase, which decreases the risk for extreme and catastrophic fires. As fire risk decreases, human safety as well as integrity of the natural environment increase, and costs incurred fighting fires, for restoration, and for damages will decrease. This will better the economy of the state overall, and will create a safer environment for individuals near clear cut areas.

ii. Tax Clearcutting

Decreased Incentive to Clear Cut. If the practice of clearcutting is taxed, this will result

in less profitable logging practices for logging companies like Sierra Pacific Industries, which will in turn decrease their incentive to clearcut. A decreased incentive to clearcut ultimately benefits the environment and its ecosystem, and ultimately citizens of the State that benefit from the services that the ecosystem provides.

Reduced Negative Impact on Logging Industry. If clearcutting is taxed rather than

completely banned, negative impacts to logging industries will be lessened. They will still be


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

able to clear cut, but will incur a larger cost to continue with current rates of logging. This will allow the logging industry more flexibility in how they respond and gives the option of stopping clearcutting entirely or phasing it out in a way that is less economically damaging to the industry.

3. Costs

i. Ban Clearcutting

Decrease in Supply of Lumber. If clearcutting is banned, the amount of logging in the

Sierra Nevada will presumably decrease. This means that there will be less lumber coming out of the Sierras, and supply will decrease. This will negatively impact consumers both within California, and to other areas that rely on lumber exports from California. Increase in cost of lumber: If clearcutting is banned and there is a decrease in supply of lumber, there will then be an increase in cost of lumber for consumers. This will potentially hurt consumers and decrease new construction projects.

ii. Tax Clearcutting

Increase Cost of Logging. If a tax is placed on clearcutting, costs for the logging

industry will increase in order to maintain their current output. This may negatively impact their profits and they will incur an economic cost.

Decrease in New Construction Projects. If clearcutting is taxed and logging becomes

more expensive, in turn increasing the cost of lumber, construction costs for the consumer will increase. This could result in less development and new homes and communities.

Note. The assumptions put forth in this analysis are oversimplified; logging in

California only accounts for a small percentage of the State’s industry, and an even smaller portion of worldwide lumber exports. Therefore, while the banning or taxing of clearcutting may have small local effects, they are likely negligible on a large scale and their implementation may have little or no impact on large logging companies nor on supply of lumber.

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


4. Items Not to be Included

There are several consequences not to be included in our benefit cost analysis on

theoretical grounds. Specifically, tourism, the impact on local residents, and the number of employees in the logging industry should not be included.

Tourism. This should not be included in the analysis due to large uncertainty around

predicting how tourists will respond to the banning of clearcutting versus if it were taxed. This is because not all tourists visit and see clearcut areas, and due to the complexity of factors involved, it will be difficult to determine whether a change in regional tourism is related to a change in logging practices.

Impact on Local Residents. This should not be included in the analysis as this

criteria is broad and opinions differ between residents. It would be difficult to predict how local residents would respond to changes in clearcutting practices as individuals likely value the aesthetic environment of their surrounding area, yet local economies may be impacted by changes in logging practices, and individuals may even be employed by logging industries. Therefore, including the impact on local residents would cause difficulties in the analysis, and responses to changes in clearcutting would likely vary.

Number of Employees in the Logging Industry. This should not be included in the

analysis due to uncertainty around how how SPI would respond to the banning or taxing of clearcutting. The logging industry is highly industrialized and heavy machinery is a key part of logging practices, so there is uncertainty if a move to more selective logging practices would require more employees for harvesting, but less in the milling side of the operation. Due to a multitude of possible responses by SPI to the ban or tax on clearcutting, the number of employees within the industry is not part of the analysis.


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

V. UNCERTAINTY AND RISK 1. Major Sources of Uncertainty

Plant and Animal Species Richness and Evenness. With a rich and diverse

population of species, it would be a challenge to be able to find and measure every single nonhuman species—especially if the species is a migratory animal or a small insect. Because this is true, it would also be difficult to measure the evenness between the species. In addition to deforestation, these measurements can also change due to climate change, invasive species, or disease

Tourism. Although it would be fairly simple to measure tourism at national parks

around the SPI land, it would be difficult to quantify if a decrease in tourism was actually due to an increase in clearcutting. Other factors such as unfavorable weather and poor economic conditions can also cause decreases in tourism.

Number of Employees in the Logging Industry. Like tourism, this could be affected

by other economic factors. It is also difficult to predict how logging companies will react. If the company only continues to use the clearcutting method but just clearcuts less land, they may not need as many employees. Contrastingly, if they switch to the selective logging method, they may need to hire more individuals to carry out this more labor-intensive process. However, with the tax, companies may also choose some combination of those two choices.

Cost to Landowner and Taxpayer. When it comes to taxing clearcutting, the cost

to the landowner is straightforward, but the cost to the taxpayer will rely on how much of tax cost companies will pay for itself (out of profits) and how much of the cost it will pass along to consumers in the form of higher prices. Like the number of employees, there is a wide range of combinations for the company.

Lastly, any data that involves research on SPI’s private land could have high levels of

uncertainty if SPI does not allow researchers on their land. This is quite probable considering that the purpose of the research would be to look at the negative impacts of clearcutting, which directly contradicts the company’s work.

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


2. Sensitivity Analysis for Banning Clearcutting The steps needed to complete a sensitivity analysis are: (1) Identify the variables that produce uncertainty (listed above). (2) For each of the variables, predict the potential range of values. (3) Determine which values are most likely to occur. This will best be achieved by using the average value within the range. (4) Execute a cost-benefit analysis and multi-attribute analysis for banning clearcutting using the baseline values (the averages) as well as for the other values contained within the range. For lengthy calculations, it would be best to use the average values as well as the extremes on either end. (5) Examine the results each variable has on the evaluation criteria by tracking the unit change in the results for a unit change in the variable. If a change in an uncertainty variable impacts the results of the analysis processes, those should be reexamined and carefully considered in the recommendations. If a certain variable change does not significantly impact the overall result of the analysis, then that may lower the level of importance assigned to that variable.

3. Changes in Risk

Both alternatives decrease the level of risk experienced by non-human organisms.

Banning clearcutting will ensure that there are no barren scars on the forest floor and will give the forest more fluidity, which would make it easier for mobile creatures to live unharmed. For species that need a wider berth to travel or can only thrive in deep-forest conditions, the ban will remove the risks associated with the edge effects of patchwork clearcutting. The tax can also have this effect, and may also cause companies to stop logging on certain patches of land. With selective logging, there is a continual forest but it is thinner than is natural and there will still be human activity (noise pollution, falling trees, etc.) in the area. If logging ceased altogether, organisms will not be subject to human harm and risk will be reduced even more. However, both options pose a threat to the number of jobs in the logging industry. If the same amount of land is harvested in a sustainable manner, the number of jobs will likely increase. Yet, if the tax or the ban causes companies to log on less land then the number of jobs available may decrease.


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

VI. EQUITY ANALYSIS i. Ban Clearcutting

Ecological Criteria. Banning clearcutting will likely improve almost every ecological

evaluation criteria listed in the system diagram. For example, if clearcutting is banned, there is less erosion, which means a lower sediment load and higher water quality which leads to greater ecosystem health and overall watershed quality. This would lead to positive effects for the residents of California who rely on drinking water from Sierra Nevada watersheds (Sierra Club, “Clearcutting�). This would also lead to a positive outcome for the wildlife that live in and rely on the Sierra’s watershed. Greater plant species evenness and richness and a lower ratio of young to old growth trees would be beneficial to the wildlife living in these forests as well as to nature-enthusiast residents and visitors. These are just two examples of how the ban to clearcutting is likely to be positive to California residents who are not associated with the logging industry, use the Sierra Nevada for recreation, or who drink water coming from the watersheds where clearcutting is taking place. From an equity perspective, the ecological effects of banning clearcutting are unlikely to harm any group. In addition, leaving a healthy forest ecosystem (and all the benefits that go along with this) is much more fair to future generations and to wildlife. (See equity analysis diagram on page 22).

Economic Criteria. Banning clearcutting will potentially have economic effects on

multiple groups. The direct cost of harvesting to SPI (or any other landowner involved in clearcutting) will most certainly go up, which could mean a loss in profit for SPI if they are unable to sell their lumber for more money. The effect on the number of logging industry employees is also uncertain. Less trees being harvested will mean less workers needed in the paper or sawmilling facilities. If the industry was forced to do selective logging practices, however, there could be an increased number of jobs actually harvesting trees (because it might be less mechanical than doing industrial clearcuts). Local Sierra Nevada business owners and employees are also susceptible to the economic impacts of a ban. If there are less people employed in the timber industry, this could mean less revenue for local business and could hurt local economies.

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


VI. Equity Analysis. This diagram shows the distributional consquences between the evaluation criteria and stakeholder groups.


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

ii. Tax Clearcutting

Placing a tax on clearcutting would likely have similar ecological and economic effects as

banning clearcutting, however to a lesser degree. People who enjoy the splendor of the Sierra Nevada might benefit less due to the remaining presence of clearcutting. The wildlife would benefit less because their homes would still be vulnerable to clearcuts. The profits made by the logging companies would decrease due to a tax. The equity of the tax depends on the design of the tax and how the money generated is used. For example, the money generated could go towards helping people laid off in the industry obtain new skills and jobs; or the money could be invested into local communities to help build infrastructure or attract visitors; or the money could simply go into California’s general fund. The equity of this alternative changes depending on the design of the tax.


POLICIES Ban clearcutting

Tax clearcutting

1. Improve ecosystem health



2. Improve watershed quality



3. Increase carbon storage capacity



4. Minimize impacts to logging industry



5. Decrease fire risk



6. Increase aesthetic values



2-3. Multi-Attribute Methods and Comparison of Alternatives

In summary, a ban on clearcutting and a tax would achieve similar results, but the

results would vary in terms of degree of significant change. The outcomes from a ban would be more drastic than those from a tax on clearcutting. The first most notable difference is that a ban would most likely have more of an impact on the logging industry than a tax, thus its “medium” score of attaining minimized impacts. Another difference between the attributes ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


and scores is that a ban would also have a high effect on aesthetic values whereas a tax on clearcutting would have little impact.

To determine which policy is best, we can apply different multi-attribute methods.

Firstly, comparing the two policies by lexicographic ordering, we ranked the importance of the attributes in the order listed. Banning clearcutting achieves the results that the client, Sierra Club, is looking for in a policy on the more important attributes: improvement in ecosystem health, improvement in watershed quality, and an increase in carbon storage capacity. Therefore, it would appear that banning clearcutting would attain the results that the client, Sierra Club, is looking for in a policy.


In order to better quantify the severity of the damage that is being done to Sierra

Nevada ecosystems by clearcutting, there is a need for more research. In addition, better economic modeling of the effects of the proposed alternatives to clearcutting would assist in determining their actual effect on the logging industry.

i. Strengthening the Evidence

There is a great deal of evidence on the negative impacts of clearcutting on a large scale,

particularly in South American countries. However, there are less scientific studies available and overall information on the effects of clearcutting specific to California, particularly because a majority of the logged areas are on private lands. While results of other studies evaluating clearcutting are beneficial on a coarse scale, specific information to California species, climate and economy are essential. This will involve (1) increasing access to private lands for scientific research (2) conducting further research on land impacted by clearcutting, using the parameters listed in our evaluation criteria (3) conducting these studies both in areas impacted by clearcutting and those that are not impacted, and (4) using these results to determine the magnitude of effects of clearcutting on the Sierra Nevadas. Doing this will provide additional


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

evidence to strengthen the evidence on the problem of clearcutting in the Sierras, allowing for a better analysis of the issue.

ii. Improving the Systems Description

The systems description could be improved by obtaining better evidence to understand

the relative magnitude of the relationships depicted in the diagram--for example, is species richness more of a benefit than an increase in water quality? This will help clarify which aspects of clearcutting (and the alternatives) are most and least problematic. The strength and accuracy of the systems diagram would increase if the further research on the evidence of the problem (steps laid out above in part one) and further research on the economic impacts (steps laid out below in part three) was then turned into a metric for the magnitude for each relationship. Steps to improving systems diagram: (1) use increased research and evidence to determine magnitude of each alternative’s effect on the variables (2) create a scale of one to five for the magnitude of each relationship depicted on the systems diagram, and (3) apply magnitude scale to systems diagram so the relative strength of each relationship is easily understood.

iii. Improving the Equity Analysis and Cost-Benefit Analysis

The best way to improve both the equity analysis and cost-benefit analysis would be to

improve the understanding about the scale and scope of economic effects of both alternatives. The steps to improving the data for these analyses involve: (1) obtain data and determine the direct cost to SPI if they are forced to do only selective logging (2) calculate the amount the company would be forced to raise prices in order to maintain profit margins (3) obtain data or do modeling to understand the elasticity of the price of lumber (4) forecast how all these factors would impact employment within the logging industry (5) model the effects of different forms of clearcutting taxes on SPI, and (6) model different uses or distributions of the revenues generated by a tax.

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report



Figure 1. This map shows the 1.5 million acres that Sierra Pacific Industries owns in California. When compared to a topographical map, the areas owned by SPI are consistent with clearcutting patterns in the forest landscape (Curiel, 2008).

Figure 2. This map of California shows the ownership of the forests and rangelands. Private and public entities have different viewpoints of the rights that come with land ownership (University of California, 2013).


ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report

WORKS CITED Brown, Jackie. “A Report on Sierra Pacific Industries Potential Consequences of SPI’s Forestry Practices.” Planning and Conservation League. 2000. Burnett, Bob. “It’s the Water, Stupid: The Perils of Clearcutting.” The Huffington Post. 07 Oct. 2011. Web. 07 Nov. 2013. <>. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). “California Forest Practice Rules 2013.” CAL FIRE. 2013. Curiel, Jonathan. “Getting Clear with Sierra Pacific Industries”. San Francisco Chronicle. Feb. 2008. <>. Environmental Protection and Information Center. “Industrial Forestry Reform: Exposing Corporate Logging.” Web. Accessed 05 Nov. 2013. “Forest Update June 2011.” Loma Prieta Chapter of Sierra Club, June 2011. Web. 06 Nov. 2013. <>. Hertsgaard, Mark. “California Could End Clearcutting.” Hertsgaard, 2000. Hertsgaard, 2000 Media Group, 03 Aug. 2000. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. < clear_cutting_3/>. Lewis, J. 1998. Evaluating the Impacts of Logging Activities on Erosion and Suspended Sediment Transport in the Caspar Creek Watersheds. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report: 53-69. Lippe, Thomas N. and Bailey, Kathy. “Regulation of Logging on Private Land in California Under Governor Gray Davis.” Golden Gate U.L. Rev. (2001). < Lippe and Bailey, and Bailey, 2001lrev/vol31/iss4/3>. Paddock, Richard. “California Elections: Propositions 128, 130 and 138 : Industry-Backed Measure Battles Environmentalists to Shape Forests.“ Los Angeles Times. 18 Oct. 1990. <>. Sierra Club. “Clearcutting Threatens California Communities and Environment.” Sierra Club. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <>. Sierra Club. “Protecting and Restoring Forests.” Sierra Club. 2013. Web. <>. Sierra Club. “Purposes and Goals.” Sierra Club. 2006. Web. < downloads/goals.pdf>. Society of American Foresters. 2008. “Clearcutting as a Silvicultural Practice: A Position of the Society of American Foresters.” University of California. 2013. “California Forests.” <>.

ESP 168A: Sierra Nevada Deforestation Report


ESP 168A Deforestation Report  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you