Photo History

Areal photos are really an amazing resource. There is a ton of information you can gain from them, especially in stereo. Humboldt County has a deep photo history too, which more or less begins in 1941. In order to better understand the forests we work in, these old photos enable us to pinpoint the age of most forests now, along with help explain their current structure and composition.

There has been considerable hype recently about the damages from pot grows. Now that we have free instant access to current high-resolution photos, we can watch the landscape in more or less real time. The images of 1-3 acre clearings are apparently so shocking that its leading people to jump to very interesting conclusions.

While looking through these pictures this week, this time in the Matole, I got thinking about the pot thing. There is nothing new about agriculture in our rural landscape. In fact, agriculture in general has been reduced to a mere remnant of what it once was in most areas that are considered ‘hot’ now. The scale of current agriculture, legal and clandestine, doesn’t even compare to the historic eras. Take logging. 200 acre clearcuts in the 60s. Yet a 40 acre clearcut (max in todays rules) seems enormous to most people, right? People struggle with understanding this evolution that has occurred here.

Look at these ‘grows’. What do they look like? Plants? You guessed it! Orchards. The key to sustenance for most homesteads…These pictures are from 1963. Many of the rural communities of Humboldt were developed in this era – and almost every little homestead had 20-40 acres of “orchards”, and in the case of the Matole, often huge conversions of forest to grazing land. All of this you see was done in a period with no rules, no oversight, and not much consideration if any of current or future impacts.

And what became of it all? The majority of these homesteads failed and the forest has re-taken the old orchards, roads, and fields. However is some places the old home is still there. Some of them even still persist of the land, while other space has been claimed for growing weed. Most of the grows I see in on-line sensation stories are the footprints of what came before them.

If I have a point to make its that pictures require more than just looking at them to come to some conclusions. The mere presence of forest openings for pot growing is not significant in the bigger picture. There could be a cumulative impact in localized watersheds due to water diversions, but I wonder what the water use for 20 acre orchards was in the 1950-1960s compared with a 1/2 acre pot grow? The bottom line is pot is a speck of a gold rush that will fade too. Will it always cling on as a remnant industry like ranching or timber has, or will it go the way of the tanbark industry? Here one day gone the next. Either way, our forests will continue to thrive with or without us.



  1. As someone who was born here and remember the big runs of steelhead, squirrels chattering from trees, civic cats and porcupines in abundance, etc., I feel like the forest may survive but many of its inhabitants will disappear.

    1. See I never experienced the big runs, I am too young [1978]. My experience in our watersheds has been one of recovery – as opposed to the experience of decline.

      I dont see many porcupines or civit cats either, but I can tell you the squirrels are still abundant in most forests…

      What do you think is happening? Do you think pot is causing the same kind of impacts as the historic era of logging and farming in this county? I dont really know much about pot growing, but from a vegetation removal perspective, I have yet to see very many grows that are significant. I think there is something to cumulative water use, but that is limited to densely subdivided areas like Rancho or Trinity Pines. I also think it will be easier to get the pot people to comply with BMPs for roads and water storage – than it was to change the pioneer culture that prevailed in ranchers and loggers.

  2. I appreciate your “different” perspective, I’m sensing a bit of a drift back toward an interest in homesteading/farming…orchards, livestock, grain, haying. Gentleman farmer, trust funder, grower, Mostly propped up by outside income, you’re right, more amiable to B.M.P.s. Flip side…40 acre churning by the R.E. cartel, sell marginal rural property with BIG down, high interest, owner carry, drugster purchases, 2-3 year grow, busted or? That parcel back to the R.E. guys…cycle restart. Tough on the land, tough on the neighbors.

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