A new logging sheriff's in town: State water officials given veto power, especially along coast.

By Stuart Leavenworth --
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer


California - Over the objections of the state's timber industry, Gov. Gray Davis has signed legislation that gives regional water boards new powers over logging on private land, particularly on the North Coast.

The measure, SB 810, probably will have little impact in the Sierra Nevada, where the state's largest timber company plans to log about 1 million acres in coming decades. But it represents a major victory for North Coast environmentalists, who have a new tool in blocking Pacific Lumber Co. and other firms that are logging coastal redwoods.

Introduced by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, SB 810 allows regional water quality control boards, for the first time, to veto any timber harvest that could degrade a waterway already listed as "sediment-impaired." Included in this designation are thousands of miles of streams from Santa Cruz to the Oregon border.

Davis signed the bill right before the deadline Sunday night and announced it Monday.

Prior to the new law, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection was the only state agency that could regulate logging on private land. CDF and state boards clashed repeatedly over the possible impacts of North Coast logging, leading to the current legislation.

Dave Bischel, president of the California Forestry Association, said the law would further hurt the state's timber industry and increase the amount of wood that California imports from Canada.

If a landowner is denied the opportunity to harvest his property, said Bischel, his only alternative will be in the courts.

"This will lead to a significant increase in litigation, and more layers of red tape and gridlock at a time when we are trying to streamline," said Bischel.

Environmentalists, by contrast, said the new law may have little impact if the state doesn't provide more funding to review timber harvest plans.

"This law is great news, but unless the regional boards get more staffing, it may not make much difference," said Karen Schambach of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Last year, Schambach's group sued the state for not adequately reviewing the water pollution caused by private logging. At the time, only two staff members from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board were assigned to review more than 200 timber plans yearly. That number has since risen to five, but "we could use more resources," said Sue McConnell, a senior engineer for the Central Valley board.

Bischel said the costs of reviews continue to escalate. Five years ago, the state was spending $10 million to review about 1,000 timber harvest plans yearly. Now it spends about $23 million to review 700 plans yearly, he said.

One possible effect of the law is to shift logging from the North Coast to the Sierra, where Sierra Pacific Industries, the state's largest timber company, has announced plans to log about 70 percent of its 1.5 million acres.

Some of that logging has already come under fire from environmentalists, retirees and water districts, who fear that erosion could damage reservoirs.

So far, only four waterways in the Central Valley are listed as sediment-impaired, compared to 90 percent of the streams on the North Coast. As a result, the new law will give water boards little veto authority over Sierra logging plans. It will, however, allow them to help devise "best management plans" used by private timber owners.


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