Reforming forestry

The Sierra Club had reason to celebrate recently, as two bills high on its list of priorities passed muster in the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee.

Seeking to diversify membership on the state Board of Forestry, Senate Bill 234 by Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, would mandate that organized labor representatives and scientists join timber industry representatives on the nine-member regulatory board.

Supporters maintain that, as currently structured, the board is too timber industry-oriented, making it easy for the governor to stack the board with folks who are sympathetic to timber and timber alone.

Authored by Senator Byron Sher, D-Stanford, Senate Bill 540 would close the gaps that make it possible, supporters say, for the Board of Forestry to permit timber harvesting that takes the lives of coho salmon. At first glance the proposed law may seem redundant, because it’s illegal to jeopardize any animal listed on the federal Endangered Species Act, which includes both the coho and steelhead salmon.

But the Sierra Club’s Alex Rate maintains that until the Forestry Board is forced to adopt the same strict standards that apply to national marine fisheries, regulatory loopholes will continue to allow the board to “shirk its duties.”

“These bills are interrelated,” Rate said, “and signal what is on the Legislature’s agenda in terms of broad, sweeping forestry reform. Together, they address two of the three major problems confronting our forests today.”

That third “major problem” is clear-cutting on private lands, reform of which was last year blocked by Governor Gray Davis, and there were no bills to directly address the problem introduced in the current session. Rate also worries about the ultimate fate of SB 540 and SB 234.

“We’re going to have the hardest time on the Assembly floor,” Rate said. “[First,] the business caucus has traditionally aligned itself with industrial interests. Second, there’s more of an education gap over there, because there’s not a lot of Assembly members that have timber in their districts.”