Enviros Cheer Logging Rule Exemption

Sept. 22, 2013—Lots of things have gotten bigger since the 1970s: houses, soft drinks, the actual dimensions of a size 8 dress. And some people are OK with that. But other people would prefer that "small" remain "small." This week Sempervirens Fund and a coalition of Bay Area environmental groups are celebrating une petite victory over the forces of SuperSize-ification and the continued public oversight assured by said victory. Allow us to explain.

Since 1973 the state of California has put forest landowners in one of two categories when it comes to granting logging permits: those with 2500 acres or less of land zoned for timber harvest, and those with more than 2500 acres. (A 2500-acre parcel is about four square miles.) Those landowners falling into the smaller category, dubbed "non-industrial," can make a master plan, get it approved once and log that property whenever they want to without having to seek additional permission. The bigger landowners, on the other hand, must conduct a Timber Harvest Plan each time they wish to log their land, which essentially means their logging plans are subject to constant public review. It's a way of keeping the public's hand in a process that can affect the public good when it happens on a large scale. Think water quality, wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration—all shared goods that are harmed by irresponsible logging.

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Early this year, Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro, a Democrat from Humboldt County, introduced a bill to raise that regulatory threshold from 2500 acres to 15,000 acres (roughly 23 square miles). Under AB 904, a 40-acre parcel on some Silicon Valley millionaire's property in Bonny Doon would be treated the same as a parcel the size of the city of Santa Cruz plus Live Oak. In both cases, a one-time Working Forest Management Plan would suffice as long as the owner agreed to a sustained yield model and promised not to clear-cut; the owner would not have to seek permission each time he or she wanted to harvest the timber. The bill was designed to encourage large-ish North Coast landowners to stop clearcutting and/or selling off their property to developers by rewarding the promise of good behavior with regulatory relief—something that probably makes sense up there.

But down here, Sempervirens Fund, the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District, the Loma Prieta and Ventana chapters of Sierra Club, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District and a handful of Summit-area groups opposed to a logging plan proposed by the San Jose Water Company weren't having it. "The bill greatly expanded the logging that was allowed under nonindustrial timber management plans and significantly reduced the opportunities for public review and input," Sempervirens wrote in a statement.

With help from Sempervirens board VP and former Assemblymember Fred Keeley, a solution emerged about a week and a half ago. The "Southern Subdistrict" would be exempted from the new rules. Senate President pro Tempore Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Senator Jim Beall (D-Campbell), Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) "brought the amendments," in the parlance, that exempted Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Marin counties from the terms of the law, which ultimately passed both houses of the California legislature.

Apparently one size—especially SuperSize—does not fit all. Says Keeley of Chesbro's bill, "In [the counties Chesbro represents] he felt this was a reasonable and good thing to do, and like many pieces of land use legislation the bill had statewide implications but it isn’t embraced by every community. One of the things I’ve learned in the legislature is that land use legislation is very difficult because we are so many different states contained within one state boundary."

As of Friday morning, AB 904 was expected to be signed into law presently.