An article on the California Progress Report website says that California Assembly Bill (AB) 1066 would weaken environmental protections provided by the the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act. Taking An Ax To Forest Protection: Legislature Poised To Weaken Timber Harvest Plans was written by Traci Sheehan, Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League. She contends, “Even after several rounds of amendments” AB 1066, “threatens the health of our forests, water, and air…”
Ms. Sheehan argues, “By allowing repeated one and two year extensions [to a Timber Harvest Plan (THP)], AB 1066 increases the difficulty of THP reviewing agencies…to effectively analyze environmental impacts.”
What AB 1066 Does
If passed, AB 1066 changes the effective period of a THP from its current three year lifespan to five years. Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (the lead agency under California’s Environmental Quality Act) then may give the THP up to a maximum of two one-year extensions if a listed species has not been discovered AND significant physical changes to the harvest area (or adjacent areas) have not occurred.
The Current Requirements
Before any timber operations start, the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act of 1973 requires an approved THP for all forestland in California (non-federally owned).
The THP gives the location of the planned harvest, the harvest method, the measures to used to avoid excessive erosion, the timeframe of operations, and other information required by the forest practice rules (FPR) adopted by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. (Rules are created by regulators to put an act into practice with quantifiable objectives.)
The THP must be prepared by a Registered Professional (Licensed) Forester (RPF).
The THP is reviewed by the Cal-Fire, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Department of Fish and Game, California Geological Service, and other stakeholders including the public. It is Cal-Fire’s responsibility to deny or approve THPs.
Once approved, a THP is limited to three years, though it may be extended (if work has commenced) for two, one-year extensions if cause is shown and all timber operations comply with law and mitigations agreed upon in the THP.
Registered Professional Foresters in California
California created RPFs in 1971. To become an RPF, one must have a minimum of seven years experience in forestry work (four of which can be substituted by a BS in forestry) and pass an extensive written examination. “Typically, less than 40 percent of those taking a given exam achieve the minimum passing grade of 75 percent.”1 I’m an RPF and the test is rigorous to say the least.
The Legislature’s Intent for the 1973 Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act
THPs were created with the enactment of the 1973 Z’Berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act. The Legislature declared they wanted “to encourage prudent and responsible forest resource management.” Their intent was to create comprehensive regulations assuring California’s non-federal timberlands maintained “maximum sustained production of high-quality timber products”
Why I’m For the Change
The bill’s aim seems pretty straightforward. THPs go from three years to five years with two possible extensions granted with major provisions.
The stipulation of no new listed species discovered AND no significant physical changes to the harvest area (or adjacent areas) is not small potatoes. RPFs watch the threatened and endangered species lists the way stockbrokers watch the Dow.
The California Licensed Foresters’ Association (I’m a card-carrying member of CLFA) puts it this way:
Originally, a typical THP required a few days of an RPF’s time to conduct field work, prepare the standard form, maps and supporting documentation. At that time, a plan could be prepared in the spring of the year, approved and then completed before the fall rains. This process was simple and straightforward, yet provided a giant step forward in environmental protection and public disclosure over the previous forest practice rules.
As for “exacerbating” the boom/bust industry cycle as Ms. Sheehan contends, I’d like more information with analysis. Selling in a down market is not recommended by any of the economists I’ve read. As CLFA notes,
Today a THP can take a full year or more to prepare for submission, require months to pass through the review process and cost the landowner tens of thousands of dollars in preparation costs and fees. Market conditions can change significantly during this period, meaning that upon plan approval the owner’s economic prospects might be entirely different than originally expected.
Much has changed in the four decades of the Forest Practice Act’s existence. Certainly the requirements have lengthened, a Rule Book used to fit in my back pocket. The size of a standard THP has exploded over 1000%. A little more time to get the job done by the timber operator, the RPF, and the regulators provides breathing room. Rather than increasing, “the difficulty of THP reviewing,” as Ms. Sheehan says, additional time should lower the temperature and allow time for stakeholders review these complex (and tedious) documents and for Cal-Fire to assure compliance on the ground where it counts.
My thanks to the Board of the California Licensed Foresters Association (CLFA) for allowing me to quote liberally from their AB 1066 endorsement letter.