Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), the second largest lumber producer in the United States and the largest private landowner in the state, announced on Monday that all public access on their lands will halt later this week due to increased wildfire risks.
The company, which is based in Anderson in Shasta County, has allowed public access to their lands in the past, provided that they did not go to areas where SPI was currently logging and harvesting trees. Hiking has been allowed throughout their lands, while cross-country skiing, fishing, and hunting have been allowed with permits.
However, a worsening drought in the West, as well overall higher wildfire conditions, led Sierra Pacific to close all public access to their lands beginning on July 1st. Public access to their roads will still be allowed, but walk-ins will no longer allowed, nor will members of the public wanting to do activities in the forests. As all of Sierra Pacific’s California land holdings are between forests just Southeast of Sacramento to near the Oregon border, the closings will effect those in Northern California the greatest.
“Despite some of the late spring rains, California is experiencing the driest conditions it has had in 1,200 years,” said Sierra Pacific spokesperson Andrea Howell on Monday. “This closure will remain in effect until further notice. Public roads that are on SPI forestlands will remain open, but no walk-in access will be allowed.”
While a large step to take for a company, this will be SPI’s third year in a row that they will close off public access to their lands. In September 2020 and June 2021, access to the public had been cut off for similar wildfire risk reasons, as, according to the National Park Service, 85% of all forest fires are started by people. Risk substantially went down those two years with no one to start fires, with the risk again expected to drop this year by not allowing the public in.
Many experts noted that this was largely a protective measure by the company to help ensure lumber production continues unhindered with the lowest wildfire risk possible to their forests.
“There will be a lot of disappointed hikers out there, but what was Sierra Pacific to do?” asked Ellen Bachman, a consumer watchdog of actions by large landowning companies across the U.S., to the Globe on Monday. “This is instead a protective measure. You know, this is the largest landowner in California. This isn’t a measure taken lightly.”
“And, curiously, this is where environmentalism and business kind of interact. The decision to not allow people in benefits both sides. The company chops down trees en masse, sure, but it’s not like they are clear-cutting large swaths at a time Amazon Forest style. Nor are they giving into environmental pressure and just stop in many huge area indefinitely.”
“This decision makes sense on a public safety, business, environmental, and even conservation basis. I dare you to find someone who seriously opposes it.”
SPI forest closures are expected to begin July 1st, with no currently set end date, although, due to weather conditions, it may last until sometime in the fall later this year.