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ANTI-LOGGING ACTIVIST SETTLES TIMBER VIOLATION

Byline: Mike Geniella
The Press Democrat
Published on August 16, 2003
© 2003- The Press Democrat

Inaccuracies and Bias
Comments by Vince Taylor

Vince Taylor, a Mendocino Coast activist who has led a high-profile campaign to stop commercial logging in Jackson State Forest, has admitted violating state timber harvest rules by illegally cutting down trees to make way for a new home. True but misleading, because the settlement was a major retreat for CDF, which had brought a civil action to impose a hefty fine for what was a minor, inadvertent infraction. Normally, it would have been handled by issuing a citation, at most, and allowing it to be mitigated by preparation of a conversion permit. The conversion permit was issued by CDF more than a year before it brought the civil action.
State officials said Taylor's illegal logging operation last year was on private property in a zone protected by the California Coastal Act. The location of the property in the Coastal Zone was not at issue in the action. The operations were in conformance with provisions of the Coastal Act and specifically authorized by the County Planning Department, which oversees enforcement of the Coastal Act.
The tree cutting created potential harm to the habitat of the red tree vole and coast lily, ``two species of special concern,'' according to the state. (Emphasis added.) These were allegations only, based on evidence provided to CDF by the forester that I hired to prepare my 3-acre conversion permit.

Evidence from this forester, Lee Susan of Fort Bragg is highly suspect. Although in my hire, Mr. Susan never informed me of any possible infractions of the law. Rather he wrote to CDF behind my back and submitted photos that are the basis for the allegations. CDF never inspected the site to confirm that the photos were on my property and accurate.

The red tree vole evidence (resin ducts left after the vole consumes a tree’s needles) is particularly suspect because it was found on a young pine tree, and typically red tree voles live in mature Douglas fir trees. Indeed, Mr. Susan, who prepared the conversion permit application, never found evidence of a red tree vole in the hundreds of trees within the harvest zone that he inspected for the permit application

Coast Lilies do grow on my property, but they continue to be alive and well, especially along the edge of my street, which is mowed each year by the county and which is hundreds of feet from where the timber was cut.

Mr. Susan found no evidence of Coast Lilies in the conversion area that had not been cleared prior to his work.

Note that no CDF permits are required for brush clearing and that the Planning Department had given permission to carry out the brush clearing that did occur before the conversion permit was issued.

To settle a pending enforcement action by the state Department of Forestry, Taylor stipulated that he violated state laws governing timber cutting operations. In return, the state agency dropped plans to impose a $3,000 fine on Taylor. This is accurate but only a half truth and very misleading.

The whole point of the civil action was to impose a fine on me. The complete dropping of the fine is compelling evidence that CDF was (justifiably) concerned that I might bring and win a suit against them for retaliatory prosecution (see my letter to the PD editor).

In none of the entire 40 list of similar cases prosecuted by CDF since 1990 did CDF settle for less than two-thirds of the originally proposed fine. In my case they eliminated the fine completely, as I demanded.

What Mr. Geniella omitted, and what was central to the settlement from CDF’s standpoint, was that I agreed not to pursue further legal action against CDF in this case.

What Mr. Geniella also omitted, and which was central to my willingness to admit that I had inadvertently violated the forest practice act (see my letter to the PD), was the stipulation by CDF that the violation had been fully mitigated by their issuance of conversion permit, which not incidentally was issued a year before they initiated the civil action.

Taylor also agreed to pay his own legal costs incurred during months-long negotiations with state officials to resolve the case. My agreement to pay legal fees is put in such a way by Mr. Geniella that it seems like a penalty, which it was not. Both parties agreed to pay their own legal costs, as is standard when neither side is a prevailing party.

The state’s costs were probably ten to a hundred times mine. CDF spent more than a year investigating, assembling, and debating their case, and they had a state attorney prosecuting the case. Except for a few hours of initial legal advice, I represented myself and did all the work myself.

It stems from a 2002 tree-cutting operation on property Taylor owns near the town of Mendocino on Little Lake Road. The trees were cut in April 2001. The civil action was filed in October 2002.
State foresters said Taylor failed to obtain a state permit to convert land zoned for timber production to a non-timber growing use. He also failed to submit a timber harvest plan for state approval, according to the settlement. The two citations are for the one action of cutting trees. There was no doubt in my mind now that the tree cutting required the permit, but at the time I had sought substantial professional advice (including that of CDF and the Licensed Timber Operator who cut the trees). No one even hinted that a permit might be required.

I was very surprised to learn, as you may well be too, that you require a CDF permit to cut one tree in forested property on your land if you intend not to let it grow back!

This is the provision of the law that CDF found to charge me under. As I found that they had applied this law in other situations in Mendocino County (albeit generally larger in scope), I was willing to admit the violation. All that I asked from the beginning was that I be treated like any other person and not singled out because of my work to protect Jackson State Forest.

Taylor said Friday he ``inadvertently'' violated state law. He said he believed, based on conversations with county planning staff, that because he intended to remove fewer than 15 trees greater than 12 inches in diameter, he wasn't required to obtain the state permits.

Taylor said the trees were cut by a licensed timber operator, and that all the timber cut was for his own personal use.

All the facts in cited in the two paragraphs were what caused me to believe that no permit was required.
``Because of what's involved, I know a lot of people want to make more out of this,'' said Taylor. ``But really, it was an inadvertent violation of the law.'' A reasonably accurate quote. Note, though, that this was obtained in an informal conversation. Mr. Geniella did not appropriately inform me that he intended to publish the story. I obviously would have had more to say.
``There was no real harm done,'' he said. I don’t recall saying this. More accurately, CDF’s issuance of the conversion permit shows that it would have permitted the tree cutting had the permit been requested ahead of time.
The settlement was signed June 20 by Taylor, and two weeks later by Andrea Tuttle, state director of forestry. As part of the deal, the state agency agreed not to release news of the deal unless otherwise asked. (Emphasis added.) Mr. Geniella buried this important agreement by CDF as the second sentence in a paragraph near the end of the article. Why would CDF agree to keep quiet about a violation that they were attempting to blow up into a major scandal for me? Obviously, because they had far overstepped the bounds of propriety and felt compelled to allow me to dictate this provision. I did not want CDF going around everywhere whispering and the story with the unfounded innuendoes that the Press Democrat has now published.
State forestry spokesman Louis Blumberg confirmed the agreement had been reached, but he declined Friday to discuss any of its terms.

A copy of the agreement and supporting documents show that Taylor originally faced a $3,000 civil penalty for violating state timber laws.

 
Taylor is executive director of the Caspar-based Campaign to Restore Jackson State Forest.The organization has waged a contentious two-year campaign in the courts and before state agencies to curtail commercial logging operations in the state forest. Mr. Geniella has repeatedly and inaccurately located the Campaign in Caspar. Our public offices were in Fort Bragg. I live in Mendocino. The Campaign, though, is a state and even country wide organization. More than 2,000 of the 3,000 plus supporters live outside of Mendocino County.

The Campaign started publicly in March of 2000. It is now in its fourth year of its campaign.

The goal of the Campaign is not to curtail commercial logging, although this would be an effect of reaching its goal. Rather, the Campaign wants to see Jackson State restored to old growth for habitat, recreation, education and research. Within this mandate, logging operations could take place to enhance the return to mature redwood ecology and to demonstrate ecologically beneficial practices.

Jackson State was established in the 1940s by the Legislature to be a working forest dedicated to research, education and the demonstration of sustainable forestry practices.

These are current supposed purposes, although not established by the original legislation. The actual purpose is to generate revenue for the state forestry programs. The massive logging operations serve no research or education purpose, other than to show that one can log a redwood forest for profit. Each operation usually cover hundreds of acres, involves the cutting to more than 10,000 trees, and more often than no employs variations of clearcuts. There is never a research plan, baseline data collection, provision for followup measurements, or plans for dissemination of results. The logging in Jackson Forest is industrial logging plain and simple.
Over the years, it has become the best-stocked timberland on the North Coast and a significant provider of logs to local mills. What has happened is that Jackson State has arguably maintained its initial inventory (although eliminated all old growth and much of its oldest second growth) while the surrounding industrial timberlands were decimated.

Jackson State has become the "best-stocked" forest in Mendocino County by default. And, this is just the reason that it should be protected from any further degradation by logging.

Jackson is less than five percent of Mendocino’s timberland and the only substantial public redwood forest between Humboldt and San Francisco.

There is no shortage of timberland but a great shortage of public forest. The people want recreation and habitat in their public forest, not the cutting of logs to subsidize forestry programs that benefit the timber industry.

But a successful legal challenge to long-term state management plans for Jackson was filed by Taylor's group, resulting last month in the blocking of a $7 million timber harvest deal with two Mendocino County timber companies.

At the time, Taylor said state forestry officials' attempt to move ahead with the disputed logging operations was ``not reason enough to ignore legally mandated environmental protection for the public forest.''

You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or mgeniella@pressdemocrat.com.