Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, introduced this week a bill “to help reduce the severity of wildfires and reinvigorate natural habitat.” AB 344 would give the state Board of Forestry the authority “to exempt from current timber operation regulations the cutting and removal of trees for the purpose of reducing the threat of wildfires in urban wildland interface communities.” In other words, lumber companies could cut down trees without being slowed down by the paperwork that requires environmental review and other ecological considerations. With his bill, LaMalfa joins arms with Rep. Wally Herger, who also believes taking trees out of the forest and turning them into lumber is a good way to keep them from burning. The bill also reflects President George Bush‘s “Healthy Forests Initiative,” which threatens to allow wholesale logging in the Sierra Nevada, essentially throwing out the long-debated, compromised and crafted Sierra Framework forest management plan. That plan was in large part based on the findings of the ambitious SNEP Report, which said that the forests’ declining health was due in no small part to poor logging practices over the years.

LaMalfa, who is vice-chairman of the Natural Resource Committee, says himself that the bill is linked to the president’s plans for the forests and “will provide land managers with the ability to effectively reduce the accumulation of hazardous fuels and restore wildfire-damaged areas.” What a boon for the lumber industry! From what I know, the “hazardous fuels” in the forests are those spindly little trees and undergrowth that have been allowed to accumulate over the years by gung-ho fire protection and the stuff that grows when the big sun-blocking trees are harvested. The lumber companies don’t want the spindly trees and undergrowth. What would they do with them? Not surprisingly, LaMalfa’s successful campaign last year for Assembly received campaign donations to the tune of $12,750 from timber interests like the Sierra Pacific Industries and Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) and $9,750 from the building industry. This is not surprising nor meant to suggest that it is payback time. I firmly believe that special interests give money to candidates they see as being like-minded and best representative of their overall goals. That being said, I suggest that any such timber operations be under the scrutiny of a UN inspections team that would rush unannounced from timber-cutting site to timber-cutting sight, taking notes and interviewing loggers outside of the listening range of the company bosses. Hey, if no one has anything to hide, what can it hurt?

My son and I went to Little League Baseball tryouts at the Elks Lodge baseball field last Saturday under a bright blue sky and faced with the harsh rays of the early morning sun. It was really cold for baseball. We arrived at the check-in table, gave our name to Martha Horn, the pleasant woman seated there, who wrote a number—9-13—in blue Magic-Marker on the back of our hand. We assembled in left field, and then one at a time tried to shag three outfield pop flies, scoop up three infield grounders, throw three strikes from the pitcher’s mound and then connect on four pitches from the batting machine. Our hope was to impress the six or seven gentlemen rating our performance, make the minors and avoid being sent to the farm league. We gave it our best, but I swear I could hear cows mooing in the distance when we were walking across the Elks Lodge parking lot to our car.

I got word this week that rumpled troubadour Tom Waits paid a visit to Paradise Feb. 5. He was visiting the convalescing mother of a friend—Dan Cohen—and spent the night in the bed and breakfast next to the bowling alley. Earlier Waits and Cohen ate dinner at the Smokey Mountain Steakhouse, donning cowboy hats so Waits wouldn’t be recognized. This raises the question: When Tom retires might he be moving to Paradise?