Sempervirens Fund and other forest-protection groups succeeded in protecting forests in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Marin counties from a new California law, Assembly Bill 904 (AB 904), that relaxes timber harvest rules and reduces public review for non-industrial timber harvesting. These four counties are home to a large portion of California’s remaining redwood forest, which once covered more than 300 square miles across the Santa Cruz Mountains, from Silicon Valley to the Pacific Ocean. The bill is expected to be signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown this week.
Fred Keeley, former member of the California State Assembly and now Vice-President of Sempervirens Fund, said, “I am thrilled that the Santa Cruz Mountains are exempted from this new law. Redwood forests are immediately adjacent to homes and public water supplies, and they exist in extremely delicate habitats. AB 904 would have fundamentally changed the scope, frequency, and nature of timber harvesting in our community. We are very pleased that Senate leadership saw this issue our way, and protected the forests in our communities from the bill’s impact.”
As the legislation moved through the California legislature, Sempervirens Fund and other community and environmental groups were concerned that the AB 904’s relaxed restrictions and reduced public review would allow landowners to carry out ecologically damaging timber harvest.
“AB 904 reduces the ability of public water agencies and local residents to review timber harvest plans,” said Betsy Herbert, San Lorenzo Valley Water District’s director of environmental programs and Chair of Sempervirens Fund’s Science Advisory Panel.
“The provisions of AB 904 are not well-suited to the Santa Cruz Mountains, where there are significant residential populations, clear-cutting is already prohibited and strict local zoning laws make forest conversion difficult,” said Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate for Committee for Green Foothills.
A coalition of environmental and community organizations successfully advocated for amendments to improve the proposed legislation and protect Bay Area counties, known as the Southern Subdistrict, from the final bill. As a result, forest landowners in this area will continue to file complete timber harvest plans each time they log their property, except for landowners with less than 2,500 acres who are eligible for another regulatory program.
AB 904, called “Forest Practice, Working Forest Management Plans,” creates the Working Forest Management Plan (WFMP) program, which is a long- term forest management plan for private, nonindustrial landowners with less than 15,000 acres of timberlands, if the landowner commits to sustained yield (based on minimum standards) and uneven-aged management (versus clear-cutting). The bill greatly expanded the logging that was allowed under nonindustrial timber management plans and significantly reduced the opportunities for public review and input.
Unlike the standard timber harvest plan (THP) which requires a public review prior to each timber operation, WFMPs are reviewed only once and then remain valid forever. After approval by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), the landowner can conduct all future timber operations simply by filing a notice to CalFire. AB 904 was designed to reduce forest-conversion pressure and encourage private landowners on the North Coast to transition away from clear-cutting. Landowners are granted significant regulatory relief by eliminating CEQA public review of all future timber operations. The bill provides this benefit to broad group of “small” landowners holding up to 15,000 acres, rather than the current ceiling of 2,500 acres for a similar program.
The bill, authored by State Assembly Member Wesley Chesbro of District 2 (Eureka/Santa Rosa), was opposed by numerous environmental organizations. Senate President pro Tempore Darrel Steinberg and Senators Jim Beall, Jerry Hill and Hannah-Beth Jackson were diligent in bringing the amendments that removed the Southern Subdistrict from the legislation.
The following local organizations wrote letters requesting that the Southern Subdistrict be removed from AB 904:
- Aldercroft Heights County Water District
- Call of the Wild Estates HOA
- Central Coast Forest Watch
- Chemeketa Park Mutual Water Company
- Committee for Green Foothills
- Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District
- Mountain Network News
- Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging (NAIL)
- San Lorenzo Valley Water District
- Santa Clara Valley Water District
- Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council
- Sempervirens Fund
- Sierra Club, Loma Prieta Chapter
- Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter
- Summit Watershed Protection League
- Valley Women’s Club of the San Lorenzo Valley