Lorena Gorbet took this photograph of the cutting in progress.

Maidu Indians Oppose Logging By Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Humbug Valley

Alysa Landry

Maidu Indians in Northern California’s Humbug Valley are protesting a massive logging enterprise on land the tribe lost generations ago.

The land is part of a 2,000-acre swath of wilderness owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and dotted with sacred and historic American Indian sites.

“There are burials, village sites, house pits, bedrock mortars,” said Lorena Gorbet, secretary for the Maidu Summit, a nonprofit site-protection organization comprising representatives from nine Mountain Maidu groups.

“The whole valley should be considered a sacred site,” she said.

The valley is especially significant to the Maidu because it’s the only one of seven Great Maidu Valleys left untouched, Gorbet said. It is filled with significant cultural sites, and the valley itself is considered valuable in its entirety, she said.

“It’s the last really pristine site in Maidu that hasn’t been developed or flooded,” she said.

PG&E began harvesting timber on October 1, clearing away trees damaged by the Chips Fire in August. The company is removing trees that will not survive, a measure it expects will improve forest health, PG&E said in an October 8 press release.

The fire burned 368 acres of the more than 2,300 acres PG&E owns in Humbug Valley, the company stated.

“The harvest will leave healthy trees behind, although in some spots all trees were damaged,” it stated. “The culling will improve forest health by reducing the spread of tree diseases and reducing future fire risk.”

Archeologists surveyed the burned area to identify places of cultural importance, the company said in its press release.

“No logging will occur in those areas,” the company stated, promising that conifer seedlings will be planted in the spring of 2014. It expects to complete its Humbug Valley logging in November.

The harvest comes as a surprise to the Mountain Maidu people, however, because the land in question is part of a federal bankruptcy settlement and may be returned to the tribe in January.

For the last century, the land has belonged to PG&E. Under a 2004 bankruptcy settlement, the company was ordered to return Humbug Valley and most of the rest of its undeveloped land to groups that will preserve it.

That means the Maidu people are competing against governmental groups like the California Department of Fish and Game for stewardship of the land.

PG&E “keeps telling us how they protect our cultural resources on our land, but they go in and start logging,” Gorbet said. “We know we can do a better job. We want to be able to demonstrate cultural knowledge, the traditional way of taking care of the land.”

The competition for the land will be decided by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, a group monitoring the disbursement of PG&E’s lands.

The company claims its logging efforts are for the benefit of the land, but the tribe sees the situation differently.

“They’re devaluing the land before they give it back to the Indians,” Gorbet said. “We’re questioning that. We’re also questioning that they did not give us time to go in and survey historical, cultural sites in that area and flag them off to be protected from the logging.”

California law states that companies must provide emergency harvesting plans to American Indian communities to give them a chance to disclose the existence of any archeological or cultural sites within or adjacent to the area. The company then must allow a minimum of 10 days for a response.

The tribe received a copy of the plan the same day harvesting began, it said in a news release. The letter was postmarked September 28.

“PG&E is legally obligated, and morally, to give the Maidus a fair opportunity to identify and protect cultural resources located on the land to be logged,” the tribe said. “In this case, it did not meet the obligation.”

Maidu Indians once lived in a wide area of Northern California. Some groups are recognized by the federal government, while others, including those who lived in Humbug Valley, are not. The Mountain Maidus were considering measures to regain land when PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2001, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Maidu applied for stewardship of the land in 2007.

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