The climate in the Urola valley was suited to the development of large forested areas that were used depending on needs.
The timber was necessary for living and working
It was the raw material. It was used as a building material, for manufacturing utensils, weapons, furniture, in an unprocessed state or else turned into charcoal.
At the end of the 15th century, stone began to replace timber in the building of houses. Until that moment only the tower houses were built of stone. The many fires of houses and the lack of timber led to this change.
Timber was used for furniture, domestic utensils, etc. but was also an essential fuel to withstand the damp, cold winters.
Wood was also used to make everyday objects and the agricultural implements essential in rural life.
Deforestation prompted the Crown to devote special interest to preserving the forests
Forest exploitation was regulated mainly from the 16th century onwards owing to deforestation: the Crown forced plantings to be made, and the council controlled growth and regulated the cutting and felling of trees.
The Crown was interested in the iron trade and shipbuilding. It therefore encouraged them by granting privileges to the ironworks and shipyards, which were two industries that consumed timber.
In Zumarraga, one of the main consumers of timber was charcoal, which was produced with numerous precautions and under tough obligations. An ordinance of 1646 prohibited "making charcoal freely".
The building of ships for the Royal Naval Force required large quantities of timber; that was one of the main reasons why the Crown was interested in forestry conservation.
In Zumarraga nearly all the wooded land was municipal property. The Town Council used to distribute plots of forested land among the farmers for their own use with a number of conditions.
The forests could be open (common lands), belong to the council, be communal (of the Town Council) or crown lands (of the King) or private (the smallest number). They were a huge source of resources.
The forest wardens, appointed by the council tried to ensure compliance with the forestry regulations. In Zumarraga they had to inspect the forests at least once every three months and report on any offences or defects that may have occurred. The position was renewed every year.
The council received income from the communal forests from the sale of timber and firewood but also from the leasing of chestnuts, acorns and walnuts.
Grazing animals posed a threat for the growth of the forest: they eat seedlings and new leaves or strip trees of their bark leaving them lifeless.
Various prevention methods were implemented to guarantee the conservation of the forest and the interests of shepherds and farmers. In 1457 an Ordinance on pastures was issued: grazing in the Urola valleys was allowed from sunrise to sunset, after which the animals had to return to the places they had set out from at sunrise.
The steep gradient of the land plus the clayey and slate subsoil meant that agriculture never stood out in the local economy. Despite that, cereals, legumes and turnips were grown.