Positive changes to state and federal laws and how they are implemented are most often spawned by active participation from individual citizens and public interest groups. This fact is readily apparent with forestry practices, as it has been public awareness, pressure, and advocacy most responsible for any of the improvements that have been made over the years. The following information is a brief overview of the process by which logging plans are approved. We encourage interested individuals to learn more about this process and to become involved in creating changes in our current laws that will better protect our forests, water quality and other public trust resources.
Logging on Private and Corporate Lands
Logging on private and corporate land in California is regulated by the 1973 Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act. This Act established the Forest Practice Rules (FPRs) and a politically-appointed Board of Forestry to oversee their implementation. The California Department of Forestry (CALFIRE) works under the direction of the Board of Forestry and is the lead government agency responsible for approving logging plans and for enforcing the FPRs.
To log on private or corporate land, a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) must prepare a document which outlines the proposed logging operations, known as a Timber Harvest Plan (THP), and submit this to the state. The FPRs describe THPs as having two functions: to provide information for the CALFIRE director to determine if the proposed logging conforms to the rules; and to provide direction to logging operators who carry out the THP. These documents were certified as the “functional equivalent” of an Environmental Impact Report, and are supposed to evaluate all of the potential direct and cumulative impacts that might occur as a result of the logging plan and to implement any feasible measures which would reduce this impact to a level of insignificance.
Approving the THP
The FPRs state that CALFIRE “shall disapprove a plan as not conforming to the rules” if it does not contain enough information to evaluate potential environmental effects, if it would cause “significant, long-term damage” or cause a “taking” of a threatened or endangered species or if it would cause irreparable harm to rare or endangered plant species (see 898.2 of the FPRs). Over 99% of the THPs that are submitted, however, receive CALFIRE’s reliable rubber stamp approval. At most CALFIRE will encourage submitters to withdraw a THP if there are problems in giving it their approval, but most often a new THP is submitted and approved in its place which covers the exact same area and only differs from the original plan by small, cosmetic changes.
When a THP is prepared, the submitter is required to notify landowners within 1,000 feet downstream of its boundary and request information on domestic water sources that could be affected by the proposed logging operations. At least ten days after providing this notice, the THP may be submitted, and CALFIRE then has ten days to accept it for filing or return it to the submitter. THPs are available for interested people to obtain, with a payment, through their local or regional office of CALFIRE; THPs in Humboldt County, for example, are available for purchase at the Fortuna and Santa Rosa CALFIRE offices.
First Review and Pre-Harvest Inspection
Before being accepted for filing or within five days after filing, the plan undergoes “first review” in Santa Rosa to decide if an on-the-ground inspection, known as a “pre-harvest inspection” (PHI), is necessary and to help identify potential problems which should be considered during the review of the THP. The first review team includes a representative from CALFIRE, and may include a representative from other agencies (i.e. the Department of Fish and Game, Water Quality, etc), although their participation in THP review occurs only on a very small fraction of those plans submitted. These other agencies are able to make recommendations on THPs, but CALFIRE is the lead agency in THP review and approval and is not obligated to follow recommendations made by these other agencies.
If a PHI is deemed necessary, which in most cases it is, a CALFIRE Forester and other agency officials who choose to participate do an on-site inspection of the area to be subjected to logging. The CALFIRE Forester and any other agency officials who might have attended the PHI then prepare and submit a report on the inspection. These PHI reports, as well as any other reports and documents that are submitted in relation to the THP, are included in the official file for the THP and can be obtained at the local or regional office of CALFIRE. Often PHI reports reveal a little more of the details about the on-site conditions and the logging operations that are proposed than the THPs themselves. The RPF who prepared and submitted the THP must respond to any recommendations that are made by CALFIRE and other agencies, and this response is also included in the file and available for citizens to review and purchase.
Second Review of the THP
After the PHI, the THP goes through its “second review” in at the Unit level, and a recommendation for denial or approval of the THP is made. This meeting is again comprised of a CALFIRE representative, who is the Chair, and other agency officials who elect to participate. If agencies outside of CALFIRE do not agree with the Chair’s recommendation, they may file a “non-concurrence.” These meetings, although not considered a formal public hearing, are open for interested members of the public to attend and make comments. Comments, however, are not recorded in any way and do not become a part of the official administrative record of the THP.
Public comment periods vary from county to county, so to know the close of public comment one must call their local CALFIRE office and ask. This date is often extended, so the comment period may not necessarily close on the date that is first indicated. For THPs in Humboldt County, public comments are most often accepted until one week after second review. CALFIRE is required to consider and respond to these comments, and an “Official Response” is prepared and sent out upon the plan’s approval.
CALFIRE is required to give notification on THPs that are filed to any interested party. These lists give very basic information about the THP, such as who the submitter is, the acreage and location of the proposed logging operation, and the silvicultural method that is proposed (i.e. clearcut, commercial thin, etc). To receive these notifications, one can call their regional CALFIRE office and request to be added to the mailing list. THPs are also now available online at ftp://thp.fire.ca.gov/THPLibrary/
Please contact Rob DiPerna (firstname.lastname@example.org) at EPIC (707) 822-7711, if you are interested in learning how to become more involved in protecting our forests, rivers and wildlife by monitoring timber harvest plans.