CAL FIRE Botches Green Diamond THP Approval

By
Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Aerial view of Green Diamond clearcut.

Aerial view of Green Diamond clearcut.

If a timber harvesting permit is approved illegally, and no one is watching, does the landowner still get to log the plan? Apparently the answer, incredulously, is yes, at least if it is Green Diamond Resource Company.

Green Diamond Timber Harvest Plan 1-15-066DEL, in the Turwar Creek watershed in Del Norte County, was approved by CAL FIRE in August, 2015, and is currently under operations, despite the lack of legally-required consultation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife over potentially significant impacts to federally-threatened and state-endangered marbled murrelets.

The marbled murrelet is a small seabird that has made its nests and reared its young on the mossy branches of old-growth trees along the Pacific Northwest coast for millennia. However, loss of old-growth forests to logging, combined with other ocean-related stressors, has reduced murrelet populations to the brink of oblivion throughout most of the species’ historic range. Murrelets are sensitive to human-induced noise, particularly noise from road use and infrastructural development relating to logging operations.

The Green Diamond THP involves use of a mainline logging road that traverses within 300 feet a known-occupied marbled murrelet nesting stand. The THP contains provisions to allow Green Diamond to conduct operations on the road within the vicinity of the occupied murrelet habitat during the species’ critical nesting season without approved consultation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

State forest practice regulations require that private landowners seek formal consultation with the CDFW if proposed THP operations may have a significant impact on or may potentially result in “take” of the listed forest-nesting seabird. However, CAL FIRE inexplicably approved the THP back in August, 2015, absent the required-consultation with CDFW for concurrence with the proposals contained in the THP.

According to CAL FIRE records, Green Diamond filed for start-up, and commenced logging on the THP shortly after the plan was approved in August, 2015, squarely in the middle of the defined-nesting season for the marbled murrelet.

Quite amazingly, there is no nexus in the forest practice laws or regulations that would allow CAL FIRE to rescind its approval of the THP, or to call a halt to ongoing timber operations in the absence of citizen-initiated legal action, aside from the commencement of a department-initiated administrative complaint process.

How could this happen? Quite simply, no one was paying attention. And, what can be done now? Apparently, short of federal or state ESA litigation, not much. State laws and regulations restrict citizen’s challenges to the approval of timber harvesting permits by CAL FIRE to a 30-day window following the approval; which means that all of this seems to have slipped through cracks.

EPIC will continue to evaluate potential options for redressing this egregious situation.