Scheduled to start anytime after the new year begins, the company will be operating under guidelines developed with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, the California Forest Practice Rules and its special federal logging guidelines.
And while the company will only be able to log some 3 percent of its ownership in each watershed this year, its critics claim the logging on top of the long-term effects of cutting year after year will further degrade the creeks.
Activists are purportedly planning to disrupt the logging -- 500 acres in Freshwater and 600 acres in Elk River.
"We're not going to do it all but we're going to do most of it in the first three months," said PL spokeswoman Erin Dunn.
The process -- called Option C -- through the California Department of Forestry, only allows cutting of trees over 60 years old. The logging is contracted, and yarding will be done mostly by cable yarder and helicopter, PL said. Most of the trees will be clearcut in 15- to 20-acre patches.
The winter operations guidelines, drafted as part of waste discharge requirements set by the water board, addresses mainly road work and use, and construction of infrastructure like stream crossings.
Despite calls from some residents of the watersheds, the water board at its December meeting did not address the impact the removal of trees might have on the creeks.
Some residents in the watersheds have blamed PL's logging for making flooding worse in the lower reaches of the creeks, and in Elk River some have called for dredging to alleviate the problem. Other residents have said the flooding has always been a fact of life there, as has poor water quality, especially in Elk River.
PL owns 65 percent of the Elk River watershed and 42 percent of the Freshwater watershed, though Dunn said that includes unforested land at the lower end of the drainages.
Fish populations in Freshwater have been improving over several years, and are closely monitored by the Humboldt Fish Action Council. Data shows that many of the fish that are born and leave the system come from the upper one-third of the watershed -- an area slated for logging.
The water board's actions at the meeting for watershed-wide or large-scale waste discharge permits will not be applicable to this year's harvesting.
Nathan Quarles, a senior water resource control engineer for the water board, said the use of the winter operations manual, coupled with site-specific recommendations written into individual timber plans, are a good first step.
"But the underlying issue is that Freshwater and Elk River are impaired due to sediment," Quarles said. "Doing it site specifically doesn't get you all the way there."
Ken Miller of the Humboldt Watershed Council said the winter operations guidelines does not meaningfully contain operations that might generate sediment. He cited Leslie Reid, a hydrologist with the Redwood Sciences lab, who found that canopy removal is a key factor of erosion problems in the watersheds.
"When you take a lot of canopy in a short time it's devastating," Miller said.
Dunn said the various buffers along streams, protecting of unstable slopes and the slew of guidelines in the winter operations manual will meet the environmental needs of the area.