Logging: Santa Cruz Mountains protection threatened

by Betsy Herbert and Lennie Roberts

Op-Ed, San Jose Mercury News, 06/21/2013

Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties' redwood forests, known as the Southern Subdistrict, are highly valued for their timber, wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration -- but also as places for people to live and enjoy the outdoors. Many mountain communities and the entire county of Santa Cruz also depend upon forested watersheds for their drinking water.
But a bill in the California Legislature would remove critical protections that counties in this region have relied on for decades.
Thirty years ago, when the state pre-empted local control over timber harvesting, Mercury News editorials argued that commercial harvesting in the largely urbanized Southern Subdistrict is a lot different from logging in the unpopulated forests of the North Coast in its environmental impact, its economic importance, its effect on the landscape and on recreation. So it was logical that our counties should have more stringent controls over commercial harvesting to minimize conflicts with residents and protect public health and safety.
Special State Forest Practice rules address these rural/urban interfaces. They provide for counties to participate in the review of proposed timber operations, make recommendations to mitigate environmental impacts and appeal to the State Board of Forestry if plans do not adequately protect public health and safety.
These critical local safeguards would be drastically curtailed or eliminated if AB 904 (Chesbro) is enacted.
AB 904 would create a new category of timber plan, a "Working Forest Management Plan" that, once approved, would be good "forever." There would be no public notification of future timber operations, and counties would be unable to appeal operations on behalf of the public. Timber management would be locked into today's rules and plans, unless landowners opt to change them.
The bill would apply a one-size-fits-all approach to counties with very different circumstances. Its goal of discouraging clear cutting provides no benefits in the Southern Subdistrict, where clear cutting is already prohibited. Another goal of reducing pressure on landowners to subdivide or convert timberland to other uses is also unnecessary here, as strict local zoning rules make forest conversion far less likely.
AB 904 would drastically increase the acreage cap for "small" landowners to enroll lands in an existing "forever" timber program, from 2,500 acres to 15,000 acres. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for teams from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Regional Water Quality Control Boards, California Department of Conservation and each responsible county to thoroughly evaluate impacts on such large areas of difficult, remote terrain within the time frame allotted.
A growing list of citizen groups, nonprofits and water agencies have requested that the Southern Subdistrict be excluded from AB 904. These include the city of Santa Cruz Water Department, San Lorenzo Valley Water District, Chemeketa Park Water District, Aldercroft Heights Water District, Sempervirens Fund, Sierra Club California, Center for Biological Diversity, Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council, Committee for Green Foothills, Central Coast Forest Watch, and Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging.
AB 904 will be heard Tuesday by the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee. We hope our concerns are heeded by this committee and Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, who represents the North Coast area, and that the Southern Subdistrict will be excluded. What may be good for Humboldt and Mendocino Counties is definitely not good for San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz.
Betsy Herbert, Ph.D., is a watershed manager with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District and a member of the Sempervirens Fund board of directors. Lennie Roberts is the San Mateo County legislative advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills.