Carbon Reignites CA Forest Wars

You can feel it in the air. High Country News recently took note of it. On 14 million acres of California private timberlands and woodlands, trouble is brewing.

Below is an August 25, 2009 press release from the Center for Biological Diversity regarding successful lawsuits filed against the California Department of Forestry for its failure to measure forest carbon emissions in timber harvest plans.

One of GRI's Clearcuts in Nothwest Sonoma County

Clearcutting in the Gualala River
watershed in northwest Sonoma County

This result demonstrates that there are no carbon exemptions, even for commercial logging, from the California Air Resources Board forest protocols. Furthermore, this Center victory supports Oak Foundation’s contention that simply planting trees doesn’t represent California Environmental Quality Act proportional mitigation for CO2 emissions due to oak woodlands conversion.

Greenhouse Gas Lawsuits Stop Sierra Logging Plans In response to recent lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, plans to log more than 1,600 acres of Sierra Nevada forest have been formally withdrawn by Sierra Pacific Industries, the timber company that had proposed the logging. The Center filed three lawsuits earlier this month against the California Department of Forestry for illegally approving the plans without analyzing the carbon and climate consequences of the logging.

“Rather than attempt to defend the indefensible, Sierra Pacific Industries wisely retreated from this fight,” said Brendan Cummings, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The cancellation of these ill-conceived and illegal logging plans is an important step toward bringing the timber industry in California into the 21st century.”

Despite well-established law that state agencies must analyze and mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions from a specific project when they approve it, the Department of Forestry had failed to carry out any project-specific analysis of the emissions that would result from Sierra Pacific Industries’ clearcutting plans.

Beyond the three now-canceled plans in litigation, more than two dozen similar logging plans by Sierra Pacific Industries are awaiting approval from the Department of Forestry. Together, these plans would authorize clearcutting over 12,000 additional acres of California forests.

“The California Department of Forestry now needs to reject all pending and similarly flawed clearcutting plans,” said Jan Chatten-Brown of Chatten-Brown & Carstens, co-counsel for the Center in the recent suits. “Unless the Department starts requiring logging companies to disclose, analyze, and most importantly, mitigate the actual carbon dioxide emissions resulting from logging plans, they will likely find themselves back in court.”

The California Department of Forestry is responsible for approving all logging plans on private land in California and must ensure that each proposed plan complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. Under this law, state agencies and local governments approving projects must analyze the projects’ effects on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, as well as the cumulative impact of related logging. However, rather than calculate the carbon emissions that would result from Sierra Pacific Industries’ actual logging plans, the Department of Forestry has asserted that over a 100-year time frame enough trees would grow back on the company’s lands to render the logging carbon neutral.

The three lawsuits, filed in superior courts in Lassen, Tuolumne and Tehama counties, asserted that the state violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the Forest Practice Act when it approved Sierra Pacific Industries’ timber-harvest plans without addressing the CO2 emissions that will result from the clearcutting.

“Clearcutting is an abysmal practice that should have been banned long ago due to its impacts on wildlife and water quality,” added Cummings. “Now, in an era where all land-management decisions need to be fully carbon-conscious, there is simply no excuse to continue to allow clearcutting in California.”