Sugar Pine - Sugar pine is the tallest and largest Pinus species, commonly growing to 40–60 meters (130–195 ft) tall, exceptionally to 82 m (269 ft) tall, with a trunk diameter of 1.5–2.5 m (4 –8 ft). The sugar pine occurs in the mountains of Oregon and California in the western United States, and Baja California in northwestern Mexico. Sugar pine is notable for having the longest cones of any conifer, mostly 25–50 cm (9 3⁄4–19 3⁄4 in) long, exceptionally to 66 cm (26 in) long. Sugar pine has received several royal accolades, including “king of the pines” and “queen of the Sierra.” It is a soft wood and is extremely desirable, offering large, clear pieces with high-dimensional stability. It is lightweight, easily milled and worked, and has a straight, uniform grain unique among pines.
Sugar Pine & California History - When James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill on the American River in 1848, the California Gold Rush began. So did the mass harvest of the sugar pine, the largest North American pine. John Sutter had set up his mill at Coloma to saw sugar pine. The tree's tremendous size meant lots of quality boards from a tree. And the wood was lighter and easier to work than other pines. Little did Sutter suspect how his lumber business would boom with the coming of the prospecting Forty-niners. They quickly created demand for boards to build mining shacks, sluice boxes, and flumes to extract the gold from river banks and stream beds. It became shoring for mines and bridges to cross the waterways. Sugar pine was used for homes, stores, and roof shingles. After the Gold Rush, settlers began farming and ranching in the valleys. And just as before, the sugar pine yielded wood for their barns and fences, even though the remaining trees were 100 miles away. As California's fruit-growing industry developed, growers turned to the sugar pine for boxes and crates because it imparted no taste to the fruit. It was also good-looking.
Fast Forward to Today - Availability and certainly harvesting of sugar pine has become much more rare today than in the days of the gold rush, at least in California. The health of the tree has also been under attack by several sources of blight including beetles, white pine blister rust and years of drought leading to stress and death of young sugar pine trees and seedlings. Fire has also burned thousands of acres of this noble tree, including, and notably, the Valley Fire.
The Valley Fire - Shortly after 1pm on Saturday, September 12, 2015 a fire began in Lake County, California, near “Cobb”. By the time the fire was finally contained more that 75,000 acres of forest had burned, ending the life of 4 people, nearly annihilating the towns of Cobb, Middletown, Whispering Pines, and parts in the south end of Hidden Valley Lake. It is the 3rd largest fire on record in California, based on the number of structures that were burned. Besides the loss of human life, thousands of structures and their possessions, thousands of acres of sugar pine trees were burned during this fire. In many ways, fire can be beneficial to our forests, by ridding the area of invasive pests, fungus and flora that compete with new seedlings. Fire also rejuvenates the soil, allowing seeds to germinate and young trees to flourish. So, although this fire was a tragedy for many, salvaging lumber from such a site lets these beautiful trees extend their usefulness and tell a story.