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.