CHESTER A healing ceremony held by Maidu Indians on Saturday took on deeper significance following an announcement a day earlier that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had suspended all logging in Humbug Valley.
The utilities company, which owns valley land 10 miles southwest of Lake Almanor, will cut no new trees until future ownership has been determined by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, a private nonprofit group created through PG&E's 2004 bankruptcy, said Paul Moreno, a company spokesman.
The Stewardship Council is expected to recommend in September that the 2,300-acre valley be deeded to the Maidu Summit, said Farrell Cunningham, chairman of the consortium of Maidu Indian tribal, nonprofit and grass-roots organizations.
Controversy over the PG&E logging erupted last fall after Maidus found damage to cultural artifacts, including an ancient trail and a village site more than 4,000 years old.
The company launched the timber harvest to salvage trees damaged by the Chips fire, which in August burned 75,000 acres between the Feather River Canyon and Lake Almanor.
The logging, done under an emergency permit issued by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also damaged several grinding stones and a house pit at the base of the hillside, Cunningham said.
PG&E maintains that it violated no laws or regulations and did no damage to cultural artifacts or sites.
The new logging cessation follows earlier agreements to temporarily suspend timber harvest activity until company and state officials assessed the damage and developed a new protection plan.
The new terms are unequivocal: "No new trees will be felled," Moreno said Friday.
PG&E will work with the Maidu to complete cleanup of the log decks and debris piles created during the logging of 218 acres. It will not log the remaining 150 acres in Humbug Valley damaged by the Chips fire, Moreno said.
Beverly Benner Ogle, vice chairwoman of the Maidu Summit, greeted the announcement with resigned regret.
"It should have happened way before now," she said.
An elder whose family lived in Humbug Valley, Ogle welcomed around 100 people to the healing ceremony held at the base of a nearly denuded hillside.
The ceremony included songs and prayers by American Indians from the Redding Rancheria and the Nor Rel Nuk tribes as well as Mountain Maidu.
Humbug Valley is one of nearly 1,000 separate parcels of PG&E lands designated for permanent conservation protection under the 2004 accord reached by the state Public Utilities Commission following the company's bankruptcy reorganization.
The Stewardship Council has been evaluating the Maidu Summit's application to assume ownership of the valley and manage it using traditional American Indian techniques.
Cunningham said he has been told it will recommend that the land go to the Maidu Summit when the council meets Sept. 11.
"I'm very optimistic," he said after the ceremony. "We have the knowledge to develop this land in a more earth-friendly way, and a very strong understanding of how we can achieve this on the ground."
Humbug Valley is the only extensive intact area remaining within the Mountain Maidu's ancient homeland.
If the Maidu Summit acquires it, management would have to comply with the terms of a conservation easement, to be held by a third party responsible for overseeing the activities.