Drive the accord home

For a directory of your state lawmakers, go to For information about protecting California forests, go to Web sites for the Sierra Club (, the Planning & Conservation League ( or Environment California (

The forests of California are famous throughout the world for their staggering beauty. Once you have walked along a pristine creek under towering granite crags in the Sierra Nevada or stood in the silent shadow of a redwood grove on the North Coast, you know in your heart that the magnificence of these lands cannot be overstated.

Unfortunately, the forests are in perpetual danger, thanks to timid politics, greed, improper logging practices and the inaction that often results from polarized thinking.

Thankfully, a handful of state lawmakers has been taking steps to set things permanently right with the forests. These lawmakers have set in motion a package of timber-reform bills for the 2003-2004 legislative session. Among other things, the bills seek to restrict clear-cutting in these forests, protect water quality that can be harmed by logging pollution, impose a needed tax on wood products and preserve ancient trees that were standing more than 200 years ago. If passed, the most important of these bills—Senate Bill 217 (Senator Byron Sher), Senate Bill 810 (Senator John Burton), Senate Bill 557 (Senator Sheila Kuehl), Senate Bill 754 (Senator Don Perata) and Assembly Bill 47 (Representative Joe Simitian)—would combine to have momentous effects on the future of California’s forests.

Of special significance is Senate Bill 217, which would eliminate the worst aspects of clear-cutting and impose maximum harvest limits for timber companies. The bill also would preserve and safeguard old-growth redwoods and ancient forests, defined most simply as areas with at least six live trees per acre that are at least 200 years old.

Basically, this bill would resurrect the Sierra Accord—a brilliantly negotiated forest-reform compromise that won the backing of both environmentalists and timber companies in 1991. All were outraged when the accord was vetoed by then-Governor Pete Wilson. Now, more than 10 years later, as lawmakers seek to solve the still-existing problem, Senate Bill 217 seems finally set to bring the best provisions of that near-historic truce back before a governor who may actually sign it into law.

Indeed, we need Senate Bill 217 to pass now even more than we did back then because existing laws and regulations do not adequately limit clear-cutting as a harvest method and because the trend today (as opposed to in 1991) is to use clear-cutting as the predominant method of logging on private lands.

With the Bush administration currently proposing multiple policies that endanger our national forests, this is the year for Californians to step up to the challenge of protecting the forests. We must ensure a healthy future for them—for our sake and for that of future generations. We urge you to write, call or e-mail your representatives in support of these crucial reforms.