California Flood of 1965. Photo by Harvey Richards
After years of mechanized, systematic clear cutting of the forests of northern California by large logging corporations, the California flood of 1964 washed logging debris into the rivers and through coastal towns with devastating impact. Harvey Richards went to Humboldt county in January, 1965 to photograph the result. The photos in this gallery came from this photographic trip.
Floods occur naturally after big storms everywhere. But the northern California flood of 1964/5 was more than a big storm. It was what happens when watersheds that hold rainfall in a complex and ancient web of living soil anchored together by vast root systems grown through thousands of years are suddenly stripped bare. Clear cut forests turn into sun baked, exposed hills full of cut logs and branches, marred by tractor roads and drag trails that cut the root systems to pieces, creating gullies that carry run off down the hill without absorbing into the ground. Not only does the rain run off faster, but more of it runs off in a torrential event that carries everything in its path with it. Bridges, houses, even whole towns are mowed down by a cataclysmic event that makes past floods seem tame. When the water subsides, what is left of the hillsides and those unfortunate enough to have been in the path of the storm, is a disaster of unprecedented proportions. The full price is not just the cost of clean up. It is a future bequeathed upon new generations without the protective, life giving forests that supported all life until now. Climate change, droughts, floods, and massive extinctions are the price we are paying.