That's roughly 420 square miles of scalped woodland. SPI isn't the only timber company clear-cutting in this state, it just happens to be the most zealous. And it owns 1.7 million acres.
Proponents and opponents of clear-cutting agree on one point: it's the most productive and the cheapest way to grow timber. But environmentalists say the ecosystems pay a heavy price for the practice.
Mark Pawlicki, SPI's director of government affairs, told us that the company meets the standards set by the state's Forest Practice Rules, and that Californian clear-cutting regulations are the strictest in the country. California allows 20 acre cuts; in Washington, the denuded area can reach 240 acres.
Timber harvest plans are not only reviewed the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), but also by the California Department of Fish and Game, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the California Geological Survey. Recently, SPI has even started to replant its clear-cuts with two or three different tree species.
The scientific community recognizes that clear-cutting has greater ecological impacts than any other harvesting method. Such radical treatment may be the only way to salvage logs from woods killed by insects or fire. And the industry is forced to mitigate some of the impacts buffer zones, for instance, are required for waterways supporting aquatic life.
But that's not enough: the tiny tributaries feeding the waterways aren't protected, so sediment and debris can end up in the protected streams, affecting water quality, fish species, and amphibians. The water cycle is inevitably disrupted, with snowpack melting earlier in the season and rainfall running off the naked slopes. The fragmentation of the forest displaces animals that move around for their living, putting pressure on surrounding lands.
Environmental organizations are also concerned about exacerbation of climate change.
In national forests, clear-cutting has been phased out for more than a decade. Members of Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch wonder why the state can't make the same rules for private loggers.
"I do reckon that private companies have to make profits," said Forest Watch activist Addie Jacobson. "But we do see companies like Collins Pine harvest timber in a way that all of us are happy with yet make some profit."
Collins Pine has been managing 94,000 acres of timberland in Plumas and Tehama counties since 1941. It primarily uses selective cutting, where only certain trees are sparsely removed. Chief forester Jay Francis says that after a month, you can hardly tell a logged area from a pristine one.
"Our owners do not want us to do anything that compromises the values of our Sierra mixed-conifer forest, whether its wildlife, clean water, recreation, esthetics," he told us. "So we do a very minor amount of clear-cutting. In fact, we just turned in a plan for a 15-acre clear-cut for health reasons. We have an infestation of root-rots in an area. That's probably the first clear-cut we've done in 50 years."
Those cuts are less than six acres wide, meeting the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international organization that certifies sustainable forest management. Since its inception in 1993, FSC has developed standards to accommodate the commercial, social, and environmental values of forestland. It has the backing of the world's leading environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. Consumers can rely on its label to buy environmentally and socially responsible wood products.
Collins Pine was the first privately held logging company in North America to receive FSC certification, in 1993. There are now 22 certified companies.
Gary Dodge, director of science at FSC U.S., contrasted FSC's approach to wildlife with CAL FIRE's, which only protects state-listed endangered species.