- Posted By: Jaime Adler
- Written by: Greg Giusti, UCCE Forest Advisor
Understanding the Role of History on California’s Oak Forests
In his book The Destruction of California, Ray Dassmann (1965) chronicled the dramatic impact land-use practices have had on wildlife populations throughout California during the past 150 years. He articulates the impacts from the loss of wetlands, forest conversion and urban expansion on a number of economically important wildlife species. In his book, he quotes an early California pioneer, A. B. Clark (1852) who recorded the abundance of vertebrate diversity that was so apparent in the early days of exploration. Mr. Clark wrote, “ I have no where seen game as plenty as in the (central) valley. We killed an antelope in the morning. We could frequently see herds of deer and elk in different directions around us, as well as wild horses”. Today, concentrations of deer, elk and waterfowl populations can be found in remnant habitats distributed in small, isolated patches throughout the valley.
More recently, Walter (1998) provides a complete overview of how past land-use practices have changed the landscape of California so dramatically that in some cases counties “have lost their natural heritage” and are mere remnants of their past biological richness. Brown et. al. (1994) and Marchetti and Moyle (1995) have outlined the once abundant numbers of salmon and how historical land-use practices directly impacted anadromous fisheries and how the legacy of these practices continues to impact these species. They specifically identify water diversions and related watershed degradation caused by past and on-going human activities as the direct cause of these declines. Moyle et. al. (1994) has identified as many as 10 anadromous species (including salmon, steelhead trout, lamprey, sturgeon, smelt) that meet the scientific criteria necessary for special protective status.
The common thread binding the terrestrial and aquatic inhabitants of pre-settlement California is the fact that many of these species were found in areas that we commonly referred to as oak (Quercus) woodlands. In many cases, the abundance that has been chronicled illustrates the importance of oak habitats to many of the species which spent a significant portion of their life history living in, or migrating through, oak woodlands. Because of their ubiquitous distribution oaks have been impacted throughout California during the past century. An early account written by Willis Linn Jepson (1909) states; “In some regions where the horticultural development has been rapid or the needs of an increasing population urgent, extensive areas have been cleared to make room for orchards or gardens, and scarcely a [valley oak] tree remains to tell the story of the old time monarchs of the soil, in other regions the destruction has not been so complete” (Pavlik et. al. 1991). Modern day land-use impacts on oak woodlands continue through urbanization and the conversion of oak woodlands to intensive agriculture.
California’s History of Forest Policy toward Oaks
In 1885, the Governor of California approved an act that authorized the appointment of a three-man State Board of Forestry, the first such body in the nation. Because of a lack of clear statutory authority and minimal budgeting, the original Board was only able to act in an educational and advisory capacity. By 1905, the Board of Forestry was supplemented by creation of the post of State Forester and in 1927 the Division of Forestry was organized.
In 1947, the original Forest Practice Act was passed by the State Legislature. Although the responsibilities and powers of the Board under the old act were less than they are today, the 1947 Act laid important foundations of experience and procedure which led to further development for the Board.
Throughout the period of the 1950s and 1960s, the Board of Forestry functioned under the mandate of the 1947 Act by formulating forest policy for the state. When the Division of Forestry was elevated to departmental status in 1977, the organizational relationship between the Department and the Board was retained. This reorganization of the Department had no effect upon the Board's mandated duties and responsibilities. With the passage of the Z'berg-Nejedly Forestry Practice Act of 1973, the Legislature reorganized the Board and concomitantly expanded its powers and responsibilities. To achieve a balanced approach to forest land policy, the Public Resources Code delineates the character of the Board by designating that five members will be from the general public, three are chosen from the forest products industry, and one member is from the range-livestock industry.
The Board is recognized as having the legislative authority to regulate both privately owned conifer and oak woodland forest types. Historically, the Board has focused its regulatory authority on those lands capable of producing commercial lumber products choosing to support an educationally based program for oak woodlands. The educational path was established with the creation of the University of California’s Integrated Hardwood Management Program (IHRMP) in the mid-1980s. In 1993 the Board delegated to the IHRMP the responsibility of assisting counties in the development of locally based conservation strategies for oak woodlands. In response to this directive, counties have developed a wide array of resolutions, ordinances and monitoring efforts through a variety of committees, Board of Supervisor actions and local initiatives.
Current Forest Policy and Oaks
Under the direction of the Z'berg-Nejedly Forestry Practice Act of 1973 the Legislature identified the timberlands of the State to be “among the most valuable of natural resources….are of great concern ….relating to their utilization, restoration and protection”. The legislature further recognized the need to “encourage prudent and responsible forest resource management while giving consideration to the public’s need for watershed protection, fisheries and wildlife, and recreational opportunities…”. The Act further defined timberlands as, “[non-federal] lands available for, and capable of, growing a crop of trees of any commercial species…..”. The Board further defined “commercial species” to include most economically important conifers and some hardwood species, when growing on timberland.
The impact of the Z'berg-Nejedly Act has continually evolved, since its inception. The Act, through a separate set of Forest Practice Rules, recognizes the need for the protection of watershed elements by establishing minimum standards for streams zone protective widths (by stream class), archaeological sites, soil stability and cumulative effects. These requirements are mandatory for any landowner who wishes to engage in timber harvesting. The Act in combination with the Rules is designed to identify and mitigate any potential negative impacts from the harvesting of timber as a requirement of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As a result of the Act, a landowner is required to secure the services of a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) to submit a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) for review and approval by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) prior to the harvesting of commercial tree species. The THP, only one of several vehicles used by CDF and RPFs, is viewed by the State as serving as the functional equivalent of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under CEQA..
By definition, most species of Quercus are currently not recognized as commercial species. Only under specific circumstances are pre-determined oak species (Q. Kelloggi and Q. Garryana) recognized by the Forest Practice Rules. In all other situations, if any oak species, including the two identified, occur on lands not designated as timberlands they are not afforded protection under the Forest Practice Act, thereby, not given statewide considerations under CEQA. However, many of these oak woodland species occur as a continuum of forest canopy in many watersheds of California. In many situations throughout the State a common vegetative pattern exists with conifer dominated coastal and mountainous forests transforming into oak dominated types in drier or lower elevation sites.
Inconsistency is in the Policy not the Forests
An obvious inherent conflict with current land-use forest policy is the recognition of tree species (and thereby habitats) afforded protections under CEQA relative to their economic values and not their ecological values thereby creating an artificial delineation of forest types. A glaring example of the inherent inconsistency with this current policy situation is best exemplified by the State’s role in providing protection to salmonid species in northwestern California under CEQA. Under the current Forest Practice Rules, salmon and steelhead, are afforded some level of protection (though a recent independent scientific panel determined the level of protection was inadequate to protect salmonid resources: Ligon et. al. 1999) when they enter freshwater habitat located in a conifer forest setting. However, in many cases, those same fish will continue their upstream migration passing through the conifer belt and ultimately complete their journey in a predominately, oak woodland habitat type. This scenario is true for fish in the Russian, Navarro, Eel, Klamath, Smith and Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems. Under these scenarios, the stream and the forest cover represent an ecological continuum for the fish as it moves through the system from the marine environment to its natal spawning grounds in order to complete its life history. Furthermore, once spawned and hatched, many of the juvenile fish will spend a significant portion of their early life stages in the oak dominated portions of the watershed. However, as the fish move from one forest type to another, the level of protection is not contiguous thereby providing only a minimal level of protection for a small portion of the overall habitat.
This inconsistent application of standardized protective measures is most apparent in those counties with the absence of local requirements to mitigate land-use impacts on streams i.e. grading ordinance, stream zone buffers, etc. Under the existing statewide forest management policies the current statewide mechanism to protect forest streams (Forest Practice Rules) do not provide a continuous level of protection throughout a watershed based on the definition of commercial vs. non-commercial tree species.
The lack of a standardize statewide approach to oak conservation has promoted a variety of measures to be developed, modified and implemented throughout the oak region of California in an attempt to address both riparian and upland issues. A collection of resolutions (Tehema, Shasta, Madera Counties), ordinances (Sonoma, Napa, Santa Barbara), evaluation committees (Lake, Madera), monitoring efforts (El Dorado) and ballot measures (Santa Barbara) targeting an equally wide array of issues. In many instances, the adopted mechanisms have focused on a single resource issue such as water quality (Napa and Sonoma Counties) or heritage tree preservation (various county tree ordinances) and have not produced comprehensive measures with adequate monitoring mechanisms capable of evaluating their effectiveness or large landscapes or watersheds.
The current inconsistencies in oak management policies and strategies will certainly continue to fuel the intense debates currently underway throughout the oak region of California as land-use practices increase in scope and magnitude. A need exists to evaluate current local policies and develop comprehensive strategies that promote, protect and enhance oak woodlands and all of their inherent resources.
Brown, L. R., P. B. Moyle and R. M. Yoshiyama. 1994. Historical Decline and Current Status of Coho Salmon in California. No. Am. J. of Fisheries Mngt. 14: 237-261.
Dassman, R. F. 1965. The Destruction of California. MacMillan Co. New York. 247pp.
Marchetti, M. P. and P. B. Moyle. The decline of sea-run fishes in California: An ongoing tragedy. Cal Ag. 49 (6): 74.
Moyle. P. B. 1994. The Decline of Anadromous Fishes in California. Consv. Biol. 8 (3) 869-867.
Walter, H.S. 1998. Land Use Conflicts in California. Eco. Studies 136:108-125./h3>/h2>/h2>/h1>/h1>