Governor’s Veto Cripples DFG Timber Harvest Plan Review

By
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

In the midst of California’s dire financial crisis, Governor Schwartzenager has taken his pen and lined out nearly all the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Timber Harvest Plan (THP) review program.  While the Governor cites California’s need for additional general funds, the real benefit from this massive reduction in the DFGs budget will undoubtedly fall to big timber.

As part of approving the budget, the Governor vetoed $1.5 million of the DFG’s $2.3 million THP review program.  This action will effectively eliminate DFGs THP review in the Sierra’s and the Northern Interior Region, while leaving scant funds for the Department to carry out its responsibilities to protect anadramous salmonids on the coast.  While it is currently unknown exactly how many DFG THP review positions will be eliminated as a result of the veto, it is clear that the DFG will have to severely limit its THP review.

So what does this really mean?  It means that DFG will likely no longer be able to provide the ‘eyes and ears’ of the public in THP review on paper and in the field.  As the public has no rights to attend Pr-harvest Inspections (PHI), the DFG has been relied on to evaluate biological impacts to listed species, “species of special concern”, and old growth forests.  The DFG has been providing vital field review and making recommendations to protect public trust biological resources, and this loss will significantly hamper the public’s ability to review, comment on, and challenge THPs.

The DFG has been providing vital consultations to landowners designed to protect species that may be harmed by timber operations.  DFG has also been providing vital field review that includes assistance in classifying watercourses, evaluation of forest stands and structural diversity, and stream crossing evaluations.  The loss of the DFG in the field leaves only the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) to evaluate issues related to stream protections.

Another area of DFGs authority which will be significantly impacted by the Governor’s veto will be the consultations and protections for rare plants.  It appears that this responsibility will now fall into the lap of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), an agency with no regulatory authority or obligation to protect rare plants under the FPRs, and an agency that clearly lacks the technical and scientific expertise to adequately evaluate and protect such species.  Thus evaluation and mitigation for rare plants by the responsible agency will likely be completely lost.

The most obvious benefactor of these crippling budget cuts to the DFG THP review program is Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), California’s largest private industrial forestland owner, and one of the worst actors in the business.  SPI owns vast tracts of land, particularly in the Sierra’s and the Northern Interior Region, which includes Trinity, Shasta, and Siskyiou counties.  SPI can now rely on an inept and seemingly complacent Cal Fire to accept its junk science and paltry biological mitigations.  The cumulative effects of SPI’s rapacious logging practices on watersheds, wildlife, and plants will now go largely unevaluated, and unchecked by an agency (Cal Fire) that has demonstrated no inclination enforce its responsibilities under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to protect public trust biological resources in any meaningful way.

So then, what happens to the Marbled Murrelet, the Pacific Fisher, the Opsrey, the Willow Fly Catcher, the rare plants, and other public trust biological resources?  The Governor has basically forced the DFG to abdicate its statutory and regulatory obligations to protect these and other species. The state has both a statutory and regulatory responsibility under the Fish and Game Code, as well as CEQA to protect threatened, endangered, and “species of special concern.”  While the DFG has not historically been the most effective agency in terms of protecting wildlife and watersheds, no other agency has been doing the work to protect these resources.  Cal Fire does not have its own biologists on staff, other than one part-timer in Sacramento, who is mostly working on Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) issues.  Otherwise, Cal Fire is staffed with foresters who are largely inexperienced, and incapable of conducting meaningful biological analysis or providing adequate biological mitigations.  Cal Fire is a forestry agency, not a biological evaluation agency.

Thus it appears that the Governor’s veto has given SPI and other large, industrial timberland owners license to gloss over issues pertaining to public trust biological resources without any agency to provide meaningful checks-and-balances.  The loss of DFGs review of THPs threatens to have a significant negative impact on listed species, as well as “species of special concern”.  This loss also will negatively impact the public’s ability to adequately review and comment on potentially significant direct, or cumulative impact to such species.