Logging plan greeted coolly

Logging plan greeted coolly
The state proposes higher fees, less red tape

Bettina Boxall
Los Angeles Times

May 29, 2004

The Schwarzenegger administration is proposing a series of changes in state forestry regulations that would raise logging fees on privately owned timberland while easing permit requirements.

The proposal, submitted as part of the governor’s budget, will be taken up by the state Legislature next week.

“We’re trying to create more incentives that will give them some regulatory relief without weakening environmental protection. We think we’ve struck the balance,” said California Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman.

Under the proposal, the state would collect an estimated $10 million in additional fees. In return, large-scale commercial logging operations could be approved across broader areas. Owners of medium-sized tracts would be exempt from the permit renewal requirements they are now subject to.

Initial reactions from both timber interests and environmentalists were negative.

“They’re putting a fee on top of a system that is essentially broken,” complained Cheryl Rubin, vice president of communications for the California Forest Products Commission. “They’re not managing the process properly and then they’re asking industry to pay an additional $10 million. I find that an ironic way to approach a problem.”

Environmentalists, who have long been critical of the state’s oversight of logging on private timberlands, contended that the revisions amounted to a rollback of forest protections.

“I think this dramatically weakens things and it’s phenomenally inappropriate to be rewriting large portions of forestry regulations in the budget,” argued Paul Mason, forestry representative for the Sierra Club in California. “This is a major political discussion that should happen in the open.”

The proposal focuses on two types of timber harvest plans: open-ended permits issued to small landowners that do not have to be renewed, and timber harvest permits granted to large industrial operations that must be renewed every three years.

The proposed changes expand the category of landholdings that are exempt from renewal requirements from 2,500 acres to 10,000 acres.

The changes also would extend the life of an industrial timber harvest plan from three years to eight and add a surcharge on timber harvests.

If a large industrial timber operation were to be certified as environmentally sustainable by an independent group, the company would be able to log much broader areas under a single permit than is currently possible.

“We hope what this does is create an incentive to look at it more from a landscape basis,” Chrisman said, adding that he did not think the revisions weakened protections. “We quite frankly think there is adequate oversight and this will create more certainty for the landowners and the regulators.”

Cynthia Elkins, program director of the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, said that by dropping medium-sized forest owners from the industrial permit requirements, the proposal weakens oversights on large chunks of timberland.

“This presents a real concern that [Schwarzenegger is] retreating” from his campaign pledge to protect forests, Elkins said. “He’s now trying to ax limited protections that California forests receive.”

The certification programs that could be used by timber operations have themselves been a source of controversy. Some were created by the timber industry and have been criticized by environmentalists as having loose standards. Others, created by environmental groups, have been attacked by logging companies as too stringent.