Gov. Davis blasts Bush’s forest plan

On Valentine’s Day, Gov. Gray Davis released a statement indicating he has little love for the Bush administration’s so-called Healthy Forests Initiative.

Citing a last-minute addendum to a federal spending bill, Davis said the new legislation would “allow an unlimited number of non-governmental and private stewardship contracts to increase logging in prized public lands.”

The legislation allows private contractors—logging companies—to harvest healthy, large trees in exchange for thinning brush and undergrowth in “high-risk” fire areas.

“This is the latest in what has become a distressing pattern by the administration and Congressional leaders to roll back protections on our public forest lands,” Davis said. “This situation is all the more disturbing because it’s happening without any public participation in decisions affecting the future of our national forests.”

The statement by Davis, who is not known as an environmentalist governor, surprised some conservationists.

“Wait, was that [Green Party gubernatorial candidate] Peter Camejo or Gray Davis who said that?” quipped Jim Brobeck of the Lassen Forest Preservation Group. “The Bush administration is going so far that Gray Davis is sounding like a progressive.”

The Davis statement comes on the heels of proposed legislation by Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, that would exempt logging and clearing operations from having to file timber harvest plans in areas considered wildlife-urban interfaces.

Those areas, according to Brobeck, could include Cohasset, Forest Ranch and Stirling City.

“This is just not clearly defined in the LaMalfa bill,” Brobeck said. “I suspect the purpose of the bill is to release the timber companies from having to do the paperwork now associated with logging.”

Brobeck noted that the bill also calls for a 150-foot clearance around buildings in forested areas. “That’s already included in other legislation,” he said.

“These bills are cloaked in language that is benign or have benevolent-sounding titles,” Brobeck said. “They assume the timber industry knows what’s best for the national forests. What they would like to do is convert the forests into timber plantations.”

In his statement, the governor also criticized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not extending Endangered Species Act protection to the California spotted owl, the Forest Service suggestions that it will, in Davis’s words, "gut the protections afforded by the Sierra Framework," and the Bush administration’s move to exempt some logging operations from public review under the Healthy Forests Initiative.