California company to shut off public access to forestland due to wildfire concerns

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SHASTA COUNTY, CA - FEBRUARY 17: Mount Shasta, seen as a backdrop to Upper Lake Shasta, at the Shasta Dam on February 17, 2018 in Shasta County, California. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Mt. Shasta rises behind Upper Lake Shasta in 2018. Sierra Pacific Industries holds a wide stretch of timberlands in the area. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

California’s largest lumber company is closing public access to its vast holdings of forestland in the state, citing wildfire concerns.

Sierra Pacific Industries last week said concerns over extreme drought conditions and increasing wildfire risks are prompting the company to close its forests to public access starting July 1. The closures could last through fall 2022.

“Despite some of the late spring rains, California is experiencing the driest conditions it has had in 1,200 years,” Andrea Howell, spokesperson for Sierra Pacific Industries, said in a statement.

Sierra Pacific Industries owns 2.3 million acres of land across California, Oregon and Washington. The closure will apply only to its California holdings, which span from forests near Lake Shasta, the towns of Burney and Quincy and south toward forests outside of Lake Tahoe and Sonora.

These forests are usually open to the public for hiking, bicycling, fishing, hunting and cross-country skiing. The company said it plans to close off walk-in access but will still allow use of public roads that go through its lands.

California is currently under drought emergency orders, as the state recently saw its driest January, February and March on record in 100 years, according to state officials.

As summer goes on, Californians are likely to see publicly owned forests follow suit with additional closures, said Issac Sanchez, battalion chief for Cal Fire.

"The window for these types of events is certainly widening," Sanchez said. "Fires are starting earlier and lasting longer, and we can expect to see these kind of restrictions follow that trend."

The closure marks the third year in a row Sierra Pacific Industries has closed off public access because of wildfire concerns. The company closed off access in June last year and in September 2020 as dry conditions worsened, according to its archive of news releases.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.