Owl closed Paskenta sawmill
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Once upon a time there was a timber mill in Paskenta, a dot on the map about 15 miles west of Corning.
It was a thriving industry that employed 85 people, and brought stability and commerce to the small Tehama County town in the shadow of the Mendocino mountain range.
In June 1992, the mill closed. Paskenta has never been the same since.
"That is pretty much the story for timber mills across Northern California," said Frank Barron, Crane Mills chief forester. "It is due in part to the northern spotted owl being listed as threatened in 1990 under the federal Endangered Special Act. Areas where the owl is located went to zero timber cutting."
He explained that soon after the spotted owl was listed, statewide more than 70 timber mills closed due to a loss of harvestable acreage.
"When I came to work for Crane Mills in 1982 there were four sawmills in Tehama County. Now there are none," Barron said.
However, that doesn't mean the timber industry has disappeared from the county.
According to the 2011 Tehama County Crop Report, there was nearly 57 million harvest board feet cut for a total gross value of $10.6 million.
"Crane Mills cuts timber and sells logs to the highest bidder," Barron said. "More often than not that is Sierra Pacific Industries out of Anderson, which has divisions in Red Bluff and Richfield."
And the spotted owl isn't the only issue for the timber industry over the past 20 years.
"The downturn in housing was an incredible blow to the industry," Barron said. "In 2009, Crane Mills didn't cut anything because prices were so low and the economy so bad. At this point that, is the biggest issue for the industry."
He was pleased to say there are early ind cations the housing market may be on the upswing, and he is hopeful this year will be better than the last.
There are 7.2 million acres of private timberlands in California. Barron said about 50 percent of that acreage is non-timber industry lands, while the rest is owned by timber companies or landowners who allow timber companies to harvest.
The majority of the remaining timberland is owned by either the state or federal governments.
"For political, administrative and legal reasons, the federal and state forest agencies do very little timber management anymore," Barron said.
"Management projects that are proposed usually end up in court because of environmental lawsuits. Because those forests aren't thinned they have become overstocked over the last 20 years and that is the reason we are seeing larger and larger catastrophic wildfires in the state," he added.
During the 2012 wildfire season, millions were spent fighting the fires, hundreds of homes burned and forest-land lost.
"It may be even worse this year," Barron said.