Timber Program Under Fire from Environmental Watchdogs

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Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

DSC00641Lawsuit Alleges CalFire Fails to Meet Climate Change Obligation

Continuing decades of vigilance to protect California’s forests, the Environmental Protection Information Center and Sierra Club submitted arguments to the California First District Court of Appeals in support of efforts to set aside a logging plan near the town of Albion in Mendocino County. EPIC and Sierra Club present arguments to show that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) is failing to protect our forests against the impacts of climate change, and is not vigilant in its duty to limit carbon dioxide emissions while ensuring that our forests sequester carbon.

CalFire is charged with the regulation and administration of California’s private forestlands to ensure that whatever logging is done, it is done in a manner that protects the environment. The Legislature has made abundantly clear that CalFire is to regulate California’s forests to ensure that they are a net “sink” of carbon, capturing more carbon than they emit—imperative in California’s fight to mitigate climate change. New research has shown, however, that under CalFire’s watch, our forests are providing less carbon sequestration, not more.[1]

“CalFire is failing to undertake the basic steps to ensure that our forests are providing the benefits we need to protect California against the impacts of climate change,” said Rob DiPerna, Forest and Wildlife Advocate for EPIC. “CalFire’s decision-making fails to undertake the necessary and rigorous analysis to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are limited and our forests continually increase their capacity to store carbon. Instead, and despite legislative directives, CalFire continues to accept logging plans based on a lack of credible science and evidence. It’s time the agency took climate change seriously.”

In the challenged logging plan approval, without providing an analysis of the cumulative impacts of the logging, CalFire instead relied upon speculative future tree growth projections by the timber harvest plan applicant, to conclude that even though the logging plan would generate greenhouse gases, those impacts would be offset by unsupported future growth estimates. Rather than provide analysis and an accounting, CalFire simply expects the court to trust it.

“By rubberstamping logging applications, CalFire fails to ensure that California’s forests work for all Californians,” said DiPerna. “California needs to be a leader in combatting the effects of climate change, and this means CalFire needs to step up to the plate and provide credible science and analysis before it gives the green light to logging plans.”

EPIC and Sierra Club filed their amicus brief, or “friend of the court” brief, to support the Forest Preservation Society, who has challenged the logging plan approval. EPIC and the Sierra Club ask the First District Court find that CalFire prejudicially abused its discretion and set aside the logging plan.

[1] Gonzalez, Patrick, et al. “Aboveground live carbon stock changes of California wildland ecosystems, 2001–2010.” Forest Ecology and Management 348 (2015): 68-77.