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GOVERNOR WEIGHS JACKSON FOREST PLAN

Published on September 4, 2004
2004- The Press Democrat

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PAGE: B1

After three years of legal wrangling, logging in Jackson State Demonstration Forest could resume next year if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approves legislation authored by Sen. Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata.

Supported by the Sierra Club of California and other environmental groups, the law would create a citizens advisory committee that would have a voice on timber harvest plans in Jackson forest.

The creation of the advisory panel would pave the way for the state to harvest 20,000 to 25,000 trees a year at Jackson forest, bringing in $3 million to $5 million in revenues for the state.

``Clearly a change was needed,'' Chesbro said. ``There is a history of failure between the timber industry and environmentalists. I don't believe that we have to choose between protecting the forest and having a productive timber economy.''

But SB1648 has raised the ire of the state Department of Forestry and timber industry officials who call it a step backward in the years-long debate over the management of the largest demonstration forest in the state.

Schwarzenegger has until the end of the month to sign or veto the bill. If he fails to do either, it will automatically become law.

``We think it (the bill) will actually delay timber harvesting on JDSF,'' said Rob Egel, chief of legislation for state forestry department.

There has been virtually no logging for two years on Jackson State Forest's 50,000 acres east of Fort Bragg because of lawsuits claiming mismanagement and inadequate environmental reviews of the forest's logging plan. The work stoppage has meant the loss of millions to state forestry programs.

The state has sold $8 million to $11 million in timber annually from the forest, with proceeds pumped back into forest operations and public recreation facilities. With logging operations halted, Jackson has lost its primary source of income.

CDF officials said Chesbro's bill could actually delay the resumption of logging at Jackson forest, not accelerate it.

State forest regulators have updated their environmental impact reports and management plan, potentially clearing the way for Mendocino County Superior Court to allow the resumption of logging next spring. Chesbro's legislation, if passed, would alter requirements, add a layer of review and could delay that timeline, Egel said.

The law would create a nine-member citizens advisory committee to weigh in on forest management decisions made by the state -- an element endorsed by the Sierra Club, but roundly criticized by the timber industry.

``If the state chooses to ignore the advisory committee, they have to tell them why,'' said Paul Mason, forestry representative for the Sierra Club. ``I think there is a little bit of incentive for the state to take the recommendations seriously, but it doesn't tie their hands.''

But state forestry officials say the advisory committee is duplicative.

``It's yet another review process which, in our view, is totally unnecessary. All they have done is actually create another bureaucratic layer,'' said Chris Rowney, deputy chief in charge of state demonstration forest programs for CDF.

William Keye, government affairs specialist for the California Licensed Foresters Association, said the committee is given ``excessive powers'' in the legislation, even though its original veto power was removed from the bill's final language.

``What it says is this advisory committee is in charge of the forest,'' he said. ``My hunch is that the governor will say no.''

But Chesbro argued an advisory committee is crucial to breaking the legal logjam that has blocked logging operations at Jackson forest for two years.

``The legislation does not give the advisory committee veto power, but it does get the Department of Forestry to take public input more seriously,'' he said. ``I'm trying to get the department to be more responsive to the wide array of concerns of the public on a public forest.''

You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kbenefield@pressdemocrat.com.

Keywords: LEGISLATION TIMBER ENVIRONMENT

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