Published March 15, 2000
Protesters duel over logging plan
By Nancy Vogel Bee Staff Writer
In a classic California clash over forests, logging trucks convoyed
in downtown Sacramento and nine environmentalists locked fingers and
waited to be arrested at a state Board of Forestry meeting Tuesday.
The sawmill workers and Earth First! members all protested, for
different reasons, Gov. Gray Davis' proposed changes in the rules
governing how trees are cut on private land in California.
Slowed by environmentalists who interrupted the hearing and declared
it a "farce," the board put off until today a vote on whether to
accept all, part or none of the governor's proposal. The package is
designed to make logging less hazardous to salmon and steelhead that
spawn in California's forests.
By restricting logging along streams, industry foresters say, the
proposed rules could put 30 percent of private timberlands off-limits
A University of California, Berkeley, timber economist estimated that
the rules could cost 2,000 to 4,000 logging and sawmill jobs, cut
timber harvest levels in the state by 24 percent in the long-term and
carry an overall economic impact of up to $430 million.
At stake, environmentalists say, is the survival of coho salmon --
all California runs of the silvery fish were listed under the U.S.
Endangered Species Act in 1997 -- and steelhead, which are proposed
for listing on the North Coast.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, charged with protecting those
fish, has called California's existing logging rules too weak. By
destroying shade, generating erosion and blocking streams with road
crossings, logging can make streams too warm, too silty or
inaccessible to salmon.
Davis' proposed changes to California's 27-year-old Forest Practice
Act would restrict how many trees could be cut along major streams
and steep slopes, and force landowners to install bigger culverts.
State foresters drafted the rules based on a June 1999 report by a
panel of independent scientists.
But timber industry workers attacked the proposed changes Tuesday as
unnecessary, too burdensome and lacking scientific justification.
The rules allow logging along salmon streams so long as 85 percent of
the canopy remains, but foresters said that, in effect, means no
harvest at all because many streams don't naturally offer that much
shade or removing even a few trees would violate the rule.
The effect of the rules on California's biggest private landowner,
Sierra Pacific Industries, would be to eliminate harvest of about 125
million board feet of timber a year, said SPI forester and former
Board of Forestry member Tom Nelson.
"That's a couple of sawmills," he told the board. "That means we buy
the land, we pay the taxes, we take the risks and you control the
At noon, roughly 300 timber industry supporters kicked off a rally
downtown with blasts from two dozen logging trucks, some loaded with
redwood logs and hung with signs saying, "From the most protected
forests in the world."
"If there's no logging, I don't have any business," said Carl Hass,
who employs 25 people in a Rocklin business that buys sawdust and
bark from mills and sells it to landscapers, poultry farms and others.
He said the proposed rules make no sense to him.
"It's almost like we're all interlopers on the Earth," Hass said.
Environmentalists have dominated past Board of Forestry hearings on
the Davis administration's proposal. But those who earn their living
from the forest outnumbered environmentalists Tuesday. Some arrived
from the farthest reaches of Northern California.
More than 150 people signed up to address the board, but they were
delayed for at least an hour when nine members of Earth First!
suddenly moved to the front of the hearing room and joined hands with
finger locks of woven straw.
They stood in a line in front of board members, refused to move and
"We want to make a statement that this meeting and these rules are a
joke on the people of California who are losing their forests and
their salmon," said Naomi Wagner of Humboldt County, a spokeswoman
for the group.
Joe Blum of the National Marine Fisheries Service called the proposed
amendments "a good first step" that lacks scope because it doesn't
require watershed assessment -- a methodical, stream-by-stream
documentation of salmon runs and the logging, urbanization, water
diversions and other forces that could harm the fish.
Davis has proposed including $7 million in the state's next budget to
launch such studies.
The Board of Forestry is composed of four Davis appointees and three
others who were appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
There are two vacancies.
NMFS biologists, who hold the authority to stop logging on land where
listed salmon spawn, have become increasingly frustrated with the
board's failure to overhaul timber harvest rules. In 1998, based on
promises of quick fish protections from California, NMFS had agreed
not to list steelhead on the North Coast. But last month, the agency
reversed itself and proposed listing those steelhead.
Environmentalists, too, are frustrated. On March 1 they sued the
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, arguing that
the agency's rules are so weak that when the state approves a
landowner's timber harvest plan, it tacitly allows the killing of
Protecting the fish
In an attempt to protect salmon and steelhead, Gov. Gray Davis has
proposed changing the rules that private landowners must follow when
cutting timber. Independent scientists say the existing rules do not
adequately protect fish. The National Marine Fisheries Service,
charged with restoring salmon and steelheads, has also called the
proposed rules too lax.
Highlights of the governor's proposal:
85 percent of forest canopy must be retained within 75 feet of salmon
and steelhead streams, (current regulation is 50 percent).
10 biggest trees along a 330-foot stretch of stream must be retained.
Ban use of heavy equipment within 50 feet of streams that flow only
in the wet season, though trees may still be cut.
Some suggestions of the National Marine Fisheries Service:
50-foot, no-logging buffers along streams that flow in the wet season.
180-foot, no-logging buggers on streams used by salmon and steelhead.
Watershed analysis that leads to site-specific logging guidelines.
Sources: California Board of Forestry, National Marine Fisheries Services
Return to Home