EPIC’s rulemaking petition to the Board of Forestry aimed at deleting Forest Practice Rules that are harmful to Northern Spotted Owls was heard on March 6, 2013 in Sacramento, resulting in a favorable vote accepting the petition. The acceptance of EPIC’s petition is a large step forward for the Board, and for the protection of Northern Spotted Owls  in California.
EPIC staff was afforded 20 minutes to state our case before the Board, followed by an extensive question and answer session. After the EPIC presentation, the Board asked to hear from the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Much to our surprise, CAL FIRE reiterated many of the points we made, and stated that they believed the entire rule section pertaining to Northern Spotted Owl should be revised in addition to deleting the infamous subsection “option g.”
After hearing from CAL FIRE, the Board then heard public comment on the petition. Not surprisingly, there was some opposition from the industry. However this opposition seemed to be a matter of principle rather than true concern over the technical merits of the petition.
The Board then held a discussion of the rulemaking petition. After this discussion, a motion was made to accept EPIC’s petition and to initiate the formal rulemaking process. An amendment was offered to the motion that would require the entire Rule section pertaining to spotted owls to be remanded to the Forest Practice Committee for a complete overhaul. The Board adopted the motion by a vote of 4-3. Not surprisingly both industry representatives currently seated on the Board voted against the motion. However, other members surprised us with their favorable votes.
EPIC’s petition will now be converted by the Board into a formal 45-day notice of proposed rulemaking, with the intent to adopt the changes after the notice period. There will be another hearing on the rulemaking petition after the 45-day notice is issued and expires.
EPIC’s attempt to improve Forest Practice Rules related to the protection of spotted owls is occurring with the back-story of the EPIC California Endangered Species Act (CESA) petition to list the species under the state law. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended that the Fish and Game Commission accept this petition and initiate a full status review for spotted owls in California.  The potential listing of spotted owls under CESA will have wide-ranging implications for the Board of Forestry as it navigates the process of updating and improving existing Forest Practice Rules to provide for greater protections of indicator species like the Northern Spotted Owl. It is crucial to remember the conservation strategy behind pursuing protection for spotted owls—as an indicator species for forest ecosystem health, protections for the Northern Spotted Owl will result in improvements for the forest ecosystem as a whole.
The acceptance of EPIC’s petition to delete “option g” is a large step forward for the Board, and for the protection of Northern Spotted Owls in California. Deletion of antiquated and harmful Forest Practice Rules will help improve conditions on the ground for the species, and will contribute to moving the argument away from permitting and regulating harm to the species, and instead toward forward looking mechanisms for recovery.